FOR THE LOVE OF THE GAME
In my younger years I was, like any red-blooded American, an avid professional sports fan. I tried not to miss the baseball and football highlight shows, Monday Night Football, and my annual pilgrimage to Pittsburgh to catch my beloved Chicago Cubs while they were in town.
But, when I hit 30 years of age, things changed dramatically. Just like a switch, my love for the pros turned right off. Now do I rarely watch any football or baseball highlights. I couldnít even tell you the last time I watched a football game from start to finish. As a matter of fact, I canít even name the starting rotation for the Cubs.
You see, as I aged I grew disgusted by pro sports. I was driven away by the greed, egos and outlandish salaries, and maddened by the marketing that somehow makes everyone believe pro spots are the most important thing in the world and worth every exorbitant penny. From those criteria, numerous disdainful questions have racked my brain. Why can people name their teamís starting line-up but not their elected officials? Why do fathers abandon their sons and daughters on Sundays? Why should taxpayers feel obligated to pay for the stadiums of billion dollar leagues? What human being is worth a quarter of a billion dollars, just to hit a stupid ball?
Even though my admiration of pro sports died, my appreciation for sport itself did not. I still value the thrill of competition, the drama of a good match-up, and the diversion from daily stress that spectator sports present. Instead of finding that joy in the big leagues, I find it in a setting that I had become accustomed to in the early-1990s: College campuses.
These are not just any campus. Most Division I programs (especially when it comes to football and basketball) are no better than the pros. They emphasize athletics over academics while many of their athletes play only for a chance to reap big rewards from the NFL and NBA, leagues that use DI as some sort of minor league system and, somehow, get away with it!
Instead, I get my athletic fix from Division III programs. In DIII, the emphasis is on academics over athletics. There are no sports scholarships. The athletes are talented but they understand that they have almost no chance of playing professional sports, knowing that guys like the Buffalo Billsí Fred Jackson are anomalies. In DIII, they play for the love of the game. Thatís it.
Itís that pristine brand of competition Ė free of the trappings of avarice Ė that make DIII sports so refreshing. Where else can you find men and women playing a game at a high level with only the sportsí basal tenets in mind? They pursue victory with vigor, aided by the bond of teamwork and guided by their own ethic and determination, driven for personal betterment on the field and in the mind. That emotion and desire among the players - and also the fans - in DIII is unparalleled in all of sports.
The best sporting events Iíve ever witnessed have, far and away, been in DIII football stadiums and ice arenas. Iíve seen many a tight game and marveled at countless exciting plays. And to think, they were playing for free and my ticket cost me only $5.
You have plenty of chances to take part in these events in Western New York. Itís been said, depending on who you ask, that weíre either a football town or a hockey town. Either way, the games await. DIII football can be had at Brockport, Alfred University and Buffalo State. DIII hockey - which has a rabid fan base (me among them) - can be found at Brockport, Buffalo State, Fredonia, and Geneseo.
If youíve never savored a DIII game, make it a point to do so. You wonít regret it and you, too, might even change your outlook on athletics for the better and turn your allegiance from the pros to players who understand the real value of sport.
Bob Confer is a Gasport resident and vice president of Confer Plastics Inc. in North Tonawanda. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This column originally ran in the 19 Dec 2011 Greater Niagara Newspapers
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