I love NCAA athletic events. College football was my first love. Having grown up in Nebraska it was a natural choice. Husker football is religion in Nebraska. After I moved to Colorado, I expanded my horizons a little. I’ve dabbled in college hockey, basketball, soccer and gymnastics. Recently, I even watched a regional college golf tournament that was being hosted at the golf course in my neighborhood.
Is there anything more inspiring than watching amateur athletes pour their heart and soul into the fight? For them, the victory usually means nothing more than bragging rights or the thrill of hoisting a trophy above their heads. That moment of victory makes all blood, sweat and tears they put into there sport worth it. No salary, no retirement pension, no cash bonus. Just tuition assistance (for some), and a little notoriety once in a while.
Even though I am a terrible golfer and have actually come to loathe the sport, I couldn’t resist the urge to go watch last week. The feeling took over me when I approached our subdivision from the adjacent highway and saw the NCAA Regional Championships banner prominently place into a well manicured patch of turf.
Without the aid of TV announcers or subtitles I had no idea who the players were that I watched, but I know they were the best players from the best golf programs in the region. Not a touch of arrogance about them whatsoever, each player carefully studied the course, assessed the conditions and played his best shots. Meanwhile, officials hovered over the finalists, presumably to make sure they didn’t take any extra swings or get any tips from folks like me.
My initiation to the NCAA as a governing body came around 2005 when I heard about a dispute between the NCAA and Jeremy Bloom, a University of Colorado athlete. As bright as Bloom’s athleticism shown on the football field, he was even more dazzling on skis.
Bloom was seeking sponsors to help fund his travel and training in order to prepare for the 2006 Olympics. The NCAA stepped in and said that he was violating the “code” of amateur athletes. Thankfully, Bloom persisted. While he was declared permanently ineligible to play football by the NCAA for accepting sponsorship money, his career includes two trips to the Winter Olympics and a stint in the NFL.
In a recent interview, I heard Bloom share his perspective on what it felt like to walk around campus seeing his name on the back of jerseys worn by fellow students knowing that while he received no compensation for the sale of his name, the gear maker, university and the NCAA were all cashing in on his name.
On September 2, 2010, I attended a Colorado Rockies baseball game in Denver with a couple of buddies who were former NCAA athletes. Back in my childhood neighborhood in Omaha, the final baseball game ever was being played at Rosenblatt Stadium. I could hardly focus on the MLB game before me as I continually checked my smart phone for Twitter posts from fans at last Omaha Royals game at the legendary stadium.
A few beers into our guys night out, one of my pals commented on my obsession with my phone. That’s when I blubbered a comment about the NCAA ruining one of the best experiences in college sports by threatening to move the College World Series from Omaha if a new stadium were not built. I followed with the sentiment that the NCAA stands for Nazi Control of Amateur Athletics.
We toasted with our beer cups as both emphatically agreed with my assessment, then each proceeded to share their own experiences of how NCAA rules made life in college hell for them.
My statement was based mostly on the experiences I had at the College World Series a couple of months earlier. I had been recruited by a college baseball blogging site to come and help cover the last College World Series Rosenblatt. The opportunity afforded me an in-depth look at how the NCAA does things behind the scenes. Don’t get me wrong, most of what they do is necessary to help prevent chaos. Yet, they have implemented such strict rules governing behavior in the press box and a post-game conferences that it’s a challenge for reporters to produce a unique story.
As if the rules weren’t enough, the aspect of control that still stands out most for me was how the water cups bearing the name of a prominent NCAA sponsor were carefully placed as props on the table for players and coaches who would face the press. Interestingly, in roughly ten days of press conferences I think I saw only one player drink from his cup.
Still, the relationship continues. I love college sports more than ever. The NCAA I could live without.