JEFF PEARLMAN

Coming October 2022: "The Last Folk Hero: The Life and Myth of Bo Jackson"

The college sports fan

Screen Shot 2013-09-16 at 11.23.11 AMThis is my blog, and I have an agenda.

Namely, I loathe the mindset of many college sports fans.

Loathe is probably too soft of a word, but I’m in a (strange) non-cursing mood today.

Here I go …

I get being 20-years old and living and dying with your college’s football team. You attend UCLA, some of the Bruins players are in your class, or live down the hall. You study hard all week, so Saturday’s game vs. Oregon or USC is a HUGE moment for you.

I get it, I get it, I get it. Hell, I lived it. Back when I was a student at the University of Delaware, basketball games were pure joy. The highs and the lows and the roller coaster of emotions. Just loved it; lived for it.

Now, however, I am 41, and my happiness does not depend on a Blue Hen win or loss. This isn’t because I don’t love my school (I do) or because I’m a journalist, and therefore can’t root for my alma mater (it’s not like I’m covering Delaware sports on any sort of regular basis).

No, the reason I don’t need Blue Hen success to make my weekend is because I acknowledge the realities at hand …

Reality No. 1: Blue Hen athletes are half my age. They’re kids, hopefully attending school first and foremost for an education. I loved watching Elena Delle Donne and the women Hens dominate the conference the past two seasons. I also know that, in world importance, their success ranks 1,343,432,213,546th—right behind my dog drinking out of her water dish. It’s just sports. Enjoyment. Fun. Happiness. But, ultimately, sports.

Reality No. 2: College sports programs on the Division I level aren’t organic, and they’re not mom-and-pop operations. Yeah, you may well knit a sweater for the lovely cornerback. And, yeah, it was surely thrilling when the quarterback posed for a photo with your kid. But this is, ultimately, a million-dollar business for the university. The players are replaceable and, mostly, of minimal importance. They’re place fillers until the next recruiting class comes along. They’re models for uniforms, images to place atop media guides and campus literature. It’s a corporation—a big, fat, oft-vicious, oft-heartless corporation. There’s a reason you pay tons of money for tickets, for gear, for a Coke at the concession stand. They love having you as a fan—but rarely do they love you.

Reality No. 3: Your school is likely full of crap. I know this hurts, and I know you think it’s untrue. But, well, it’s true. Your coaches go into inner-city apartments and promise an education that’s rarely delivered; they promise NFL possibilities that often never come; they promise being part of a family … until that family decides you’re not meeting your potential, and takes away your scholarship after a year. Your school has gross boosters who drip of grease and slime. Your school is (often) paying players under the table. Your school is selling thousands of No. 7 jerseys in the campus bookstore (and online), while No. 7 is a kid from a single-parent home whose mom busts her ass to bring home $16,000 annually from working the overnight shift at the local diner.

Again, I get loyalty. Especially regional loyalty. I also get loving a school so much that all you want—all you need—is for the team to win and win and win and win.

Just don’t fool yourself.

It ain’t what you think.