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William C. Altreuter
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Thursday, January 15, 2004

I often find myself on the 6:15 flight to JFK. It is mighty early in the morning, and it is never earlier than when you do it at this time of year, when it is so cold that salt doesn't work, and the snow crunches under the tires of the cab, and the whole world feels like a big runny nose. Sometimes travel is glamorous, but mostly, I think, it's a commute-- at least it is for me. The airport is an odd place at 5:00 AM-- it is more crowded than you'd think, but it is still quiet, as though everyone there is muted a bit out of consideration for the rest of the world still asleep. This morning, as I worked my way through the serpentine line to the magnometers, I was joined by the University of Massachusetts basketball team, who had played a game at St. Bonaventure last night. The players were mostly wearing their Nike U. Mass warm-up suits, which, in combination with the fact that they were all just plain big made them stand out in the crowd, and seeing them made me think a bit about the state of college athletics. I picked up a paper once I'd been cleared through security, and noted that these kids (more or less the same age as EGA, and in school a few miles from where she is in school) had lost to the Bonnies, and had played in a nearly empty gym, because St. Bonaventure isn't back in session yet. Doesn't that sort of make you wonder? Olean is not the suburb of Buffalo that you might think it is-- when I go there, I leave myself two hours, and I would be a bit more generous with my time if I were doing it in the teeth of a western New York winter. Figure that the game was over by 10:00 PM-- that sounds to me like about two and a half hours of sleep somewhere, maybe, then on the bus, and to the airport. It sounds to me (and looked to me) like sleeping in your clothes. It sounds to me like some kind of grind, in other words, and for what? U Mass is an okay program, I guess. I suppose kids get drafted out of it sometimes. If these kids got beat by the Friars, though, I'm thinking that none of them are having their moms buy them Hummers anytime soon, though, and even if I happened to be standing on line this morning with the next Carmelo Anthony, is that what college sports should be? I mean, I can't be the only one that thinks that is wrong to take 18 and 19 year old kids and put them in a grinder that has them playing in an empty gym, sleeping in their clothes, and flying out of Buffalo at an hour when any other kid their age is rolling over and dreaming about rabbits. When we are kids, a lot of things that we come to take for granted seem like adventures. When we are kids, a lot of things that we now find to be uncomfortable are merely inconvenient. When we are kids, we don't always recognize when we are being taken advantage of-- but that's exactly what was going on with the kids I saw from U. Mass this morning-- there is no legitimate pedagogical reason for those guys to have to have dragged themselves back and forth from Amherst to Olean like that. Their peers didn't see the game, it can't have been fun, and it is about as irrelevant to a university education as an activity can be to find yourself in buses, gyms and airports squandering your youth. King Kaufman asks, "How venal, how Snidely Whiplash-esque, is the NCAA?" Man, pretty damn Snidely Whiplash-esque is what it looks like to me. I mean, I'm in that airport a couple of times a week because that's what I do for a living. These student athletes are university students-- that's what they are supposed to be doing. Tuesday I was in JFK waiting for the flight back to Buffalo and the waiting area was full of college kids who were comming back from a J-Term in China. It's fine to say that college athletics exposes studnets who might not otherwise have the benifit of the broadening effect of travel to other places, but who are we kidding? The U. Mass Hoopsters saw nothing but airports and gyms this trip, and we all know that the view is mostly the same every time out. This is a commute for them, just like it is for me. Just part of the job. Except that I get paid, and they get-- I don't know what. I guess they get to inhabit a dreamworld, like the people who think about the things they will do with their lottery winnings. Don't you think that an educational institution would want to discourage its students from that sort of thinking? Shouldnt any decent institution of higher learning be teaching its students to at least realistically assess the probability of the hypothetical NBA millions? Shouldn't a university treat its students like students?

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