Tag Archives: ncaa

My love-hate relationship with the NCAA

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.


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Rosenblatt Stadium’s ten day funeral (2010)

A couple days before the last College World Series began at Rosenblatt, I read a post on the Rosenblatt Stadium Facebook fan page that from my perspective could not ring any more true. It read, “2009 was the last year of the College World Series at Rosenblatt; 2010 will be a 10-day funeral.”

That’s the feeling I get here this week, like I’m at a funeral. Just as if people were coming for a wake, people are talking about Rosenblatt with nothing but respect, choosing their words carefully, so as not to disrespect the departed.

You can feel it in the way people conduct themselves on the streets, at the tailgates, in the stands. There is something noticeably different about the feeling in the air at this year’s College World Series. On 13th street, you get the sense people are just going through the motions. They’re wandering around looking at things, mostly memorabilia, but they’re not excited about it. The vendors I have talked to indicate there’s a lot of browsing, but not as much buying as they’re used to. The exception is with anything that can remind them of Rosenblatt. People are snapping that stuff up: t-shirts, books, posters, photos, stadium replicas … even dirt from the infield. Which leads me to wonder if the reason that the City of Omaha secured the stadium grounds with a chain-link fence this year was to prevent looting. My only other hypothesis was that the pupose of the fence was to funnel more people past all the paid sponsors. No matter the reason, it deserves “bonehead move of the year.”

In the parking lot, the lucky ones who have cracked the code on finding a tailgate spot within the tightly secured compound seem to be doing it for the sake of nostalgia. It’s definitely not the party atmosphere we felt in 2009. Granted, LSU is not here this year but still, it’s just different. Last year there were meat smokers and grills galore (the smell alone would get your blood flowing). This year, the trend is toward meat and cheese trays. What? When I ask people about their plans for next year, their faces lose all excitement.

Father and son, Jason and Mike Dale, pose at their tailgate party in 2010.

The Dale family has built a family tradition of tailgating at the College World Series, they’ve been doing it the same way for the past 26 years. This year the chain-link fence saga changed everything. They were able to secure a spot on the grassy area across College World Series Blvd. from Rosenblatt’s main parking lot. They even printed t-shirts this year to commemorate the event. Mike Dale, the patriarch, admits his health is declining and doesn’t know how much longer he’ll be able to carry on the tradition. So, he’s making sure his son Jason is prepared to continue his legacy when the new stadium opens downtown. Mike goes on to share that they have no idea what the situation will be like downtown. They’re prepared to rent out a meeting room at a hotel if that’s what it takes. Double-what?

Jim Monaghan (left) with his brother at the 2010 CWS.

In the stands, many of the traditions carry on. Beach balls bounce around the general-admission sections as in years past, with periodic chants that left field (or right field) sucks. But even in the stands, you get the somber feeling that its over. I spoke briefly in the stands with Jim Monaghan, who shared (with no lack of emotion) how torn up he is about losing the season-ticket seats he has occupied for 30 years. He’ll try out the new stadium, but he’s less than thrilled about it, especially considering his two season tickets in 2011 will cost him $3,300. His seats this year, in a comparable location, were $550.

Something new that fans are being exposed to this year are clips on the scoreboard screen from the NCAA’s new “documentary” about the College World Series. I’ve watched and re-watched The Long Home Run and have concluded it’s less about cherishing the memories of Rosenblatt Stadium and more about the NCAA trying to heal the wounds inflicted on the people of Omaha, local residents who love their stadium so much. Nevertheless, it is a program I think all sports fans should watch.

Fans are making their own documentaries by taking more pictures and video than I can recall ever seeing. They’re capturing every detail from every angle. Since when is it so important to have pictures of the ticket booth at a stadium? People are snapping pictures of signs, concession stands, seats, ushers, foul poles, the press box and, of course, themselves. For a snapshot in front of the infamous CWS statue, the wait in line is averaging about 10 minutes on game days.

The 10-day funeral will conclude either June 29 or 30, with the final dogpile at Rosenblatt. Shortly thereafter, fans, players, coaches, media and staff will form a procession out of the South Omaha neighborhood that has been to good to them (and Rosenblatt) for so long.

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