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Why We Love College Sports

The scene: a beautiful Carolina evening. A confident team of baseball players clad in powder blue and white. And a crowd of 3,517 cheering Tar Heels (with a few Owls fans sprinkled in, here and there). I, sadly, was not among them, but after Tyler Rocklein blasted one out of the park for a grand slam home run, pulling the Owls ahead of my beloved Tar Heels 8-6, I was glued to “Watch ESPN” (experiencing disbelief and horror simultaneously).

Four excruciating innings later—and after falling behind by three runs—the Heels finally closed the game 12-11. The stands erupted as the team poured onto the field.

Take away the Carolina blue, and this could be a snapshot of any victorious team, anywhere. But after a litany of abuses in college athletics, it’s worth remembering why we obsess over college sports in the first place—especially with an increasing number of calls for the athletes who bear the widely mocked moniker “student-athletes” to become professionals.

The beauty of college sports is, in large part, their amateur status. At UNC, I ran into Tyler Zeller leaving the economics building every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. My professors share stories about teaching Harrison Barnes or Tyler Hansbrough. One of my friends attended church with Gio Bernard. Having a real connection with someone (however tenuous) makes cheering for them on the field all that much more meaningful. I’ve had class with one of the pitchers who took the mound on Monday night—how many Yankees fans have even shaken Roger Clemens’s hand? The term “student-athlete” may be mostly a joke these days, but professionalizing college sports would eradicate whatever little remains of that ethos entirely.

Another common rap against college sports is its tribalism. In our fantasy sports infused world, it’s increasingly common to cheer for your team while hoping the opposing QB gets a lot of passing yardage. In college sports, that kind of split loyalty is treachery. There are perfectly rational reasons to dislike—just to take one example completely at random—Duke University: its faux gothic architecture; the hedonistic culture that produced Tucker Max and the setting for I Am Charlotte Simmons; or the fact that Duke gave Stanley Fish his start. But it takes a certain level of irrational loathing to perennially reprint a column from 1990 entitled, “Why I Hate Duke” before the Duke-Carolina game. There are trade-offs to everything—with apologies to Edward Saïd, “otherizing” Creighton for (purposefully) injuring Kendall Marshall in the 2012 NCAA tourney did prompt the Pass Fir5t movement which celebrated Kendall’s selfless ball-handling and sought to inspire people to follow his example. While problematic, college athletics’s tribalism is what creates a sense of community among complete strangers. That’s something to be valued.

College athletics needs fixing, absolutely. But as the Tar Heels take the field tonight, it’s nice to be occasionally reminded why we celebrate victories like these so passionately.

Republished from Acculturated.com. Click here to view original article.