August 28 - Back To School
It's that time of year again... Office supply stores are offering discounts on
five-subject notebooks. Malls are mobbed with teens restocking their
wardrobes with the latest fashions. And parents excitedly wait for the
impending day when their kids go Back To School.
For me, back to school means thousands of collegiate student-athletes
across the country hitting the playing fields and courts. Competitions of
all kinds, from soccer to volleyball to crew, from Division I powerhouse
programs like Duke and Stanford to local Division II and Division III
schools like Mercy College and CCNY.
While I'm a fan of professional sports, there has always been something about collegiate athletics,
especially at the non-Division I-A power elite conferences and schools, that has been particularly
appealing to me. Having attended Fordham University, which falls short of “big-time” status despite
its move to the Atlantic 10 conference a decade ago, and having worked at the University of Maryland
Baltimore County (UMBC), a Division I-AAA (no football) program scraping by on a Division II budget, I
have an appreciation for the many athletes and competitions that go on under the radar of the
national mainstream media.
What I have found is that those athletes and coaches are working just as hard as (and often harder
than) their professional and “major” collegiate counterparts. The games are just as exciting, the fans,
though fewer, are just as fervent. In most cases, the student-athletes are just that -- the “student” part
undeniably comes first. They are playing because they love their sports, the competition and their
teammates. They are not harboring dreams of playing professionally or just using the sport to get a
free education. They are serious students and serious athletes, recruited by coaches who often have
second and third jobs within the athletic department, also doing this not for glory but for love of their
sport, the competition, and their student-athletes.
This past year, I uncovered a gem of a Weblog called the “Mid Majority” (www.midmajority.com), in
which a dedicated Philadelphian named Kyle Whelliston chronicled his attendance at 100 Division I
men's college basketball games during the season. What I loved was that he didn't just go to see
Duke, North Carolina and Syracuse, like everyone else. He went to Fordham, to Lehigh, to Delaware
State. He saw good teams and bad, good games and bad. But what I got the most from reading
Whelliston's reports was that there's this whole world of competition out there, sometimes in front of
tens of thousands, sometimes just in front of friends and family, that all levels of collegiate sports
brings. CSTV and ESPNU hope to capture that; I hope both are able to succeed in opening this world
up to viewers everywhere.
But the beautiful thing about it is that even if their games never air even on community access
television, these student-athletes, coaches and administrators will continue their great work. For
those enterprising enough to read the schedules printed in the agate type of their local newspapers,
there are games just about every day in every city and town, from now through next May. Admission is
often free and the environments are almost always very friendly to young children. (A two-year-old
would fare much better at a Queens College baseball game than at nearby Shea Stadium.)
I've now had the good fortune to become involved in the media relations efforts
with the New York Collegiate Athletic Conference (NYCAC), a Division II league
of schools in the New York Metro area. Schools like Adelphi University,
Dowling College and Molloy College, with strong academic reputations and a
common goal of promoting healthy competition in a fiscally sound way. I'm looking forward to
meeting the coaches, athletes and administrators who make up this organization, and especially to
attending games. I've been mostly out of the collegiate athletics world for almost 10 years, and
though the hours were often long and the pay was often low, for sure I have missed it.
It's time to go back to school.