Thursday, January 19, 2006

Both Ends of the Spectrum in College Sports

I've mentioned the NCAA's blog, "Double-A Zone," previously, but there are two recent posts there that I feel are worth linking to and commenting on.

In the first one, writer Josh Centor shares some his experiences as a Division III baseball player at Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass. From purely a sports perspective, you've probably never heard of Brendeis, and I'm sure you've never heard of Josh Centor, and that's really the point I'm making here.

Centor and his teammates knew that you would probably never hear of their exploits, their successes or their failures. They didn't play for fame or fortune, or even a scholarship since they are not allowed in Division III athletics. They actually played for the love of the game, and thousands upon thousands of college students still do that every year. Teams in the NCAA's Division II, Division III, the NAIA, and countless junior colleges are 99% comprised of athletes competing because they enjoy doing it. The lack of attention they draw does not diminish the impact the participation has on the athletes' lives, a point Josh states very eloquently in his post.

On the same blog, there is a contribution by none other than Myles Brand, best known as the man who fired Bob Knight and who currently serves as the president of the NCAA. In his post "The Problem," Brand talks about the financial situation in college sports today. He states that while there is a perception of major college programs rolling in money, few of them operate at a profit.

Brand writes that the biggest financial problem facing college sports is the rapidly increasing rate of expenitures. I couldn't agree with him more. There are hundreds of millions of dollars, being spent every year on constructing new stadiums/arenas or upgrading existing ones. There are also many millions being used to construct training facilities with the justification that they are required to "stay competitive." This is the NCAA's version of "keeping up with the Jonses, just like their professional counterparts. At least the schools don't threaten to move.

I've been behind the scenes at the University of Maryland's new basketball arena and their football training facility, and I was suitably impressed. The Comcast Center is beautiful, fan friendly and a great facility for athletes from many sports to use. If the Terps' football team was up to the level of their training center, they'd be in a BCS bowl every season.

It's all nice, but is it absolutely necessary? Of course not. Mr. Brand says that he will outline an approach he feels will lead to a moderation in athletics expenditures. Instinctively, I'm very sceptical, but he at least deserves credit for putting the situation out there. I think he is sincerely trying to do the right thing by the schools, athletes, and students. It remains to be seen how much he will actually be alowed to change. I eagerly anticipate his next post and will try very hard to give him the benefit of the doubt.

In the meantime, I'll dig around some of the D III websites if I want to get in touch with the heart and soul of college sports as they were meant to be played, and I'm glad Josh's story pointed me in that direction.


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