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For the love of the game

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I love what I do.

Not a day goes by that I’m not satisfied with my career choice. Do I worry incessantly about my job prospects after graduation? Sure.

Am I concerned that I might not make enough money to support a family one day? Absolutely.

But at least I know I’ll be at peace with myself. I know I won’t be crunching numbers in an office cubicle or burying my nose in a law school library. Not only would I be miserable doing anything else, I wouldn’t come close to being even decent at anything but sports writing.

I do it for the love of the game. When I become a full-time professional, I’ll be the same way.

This is why I’ve always been more appreciative of college athletics than professional sports.

Professional sports have become a marketing vacuum, sucking the life out of stadiums and turning what used to be thrilling sporting environments into colossal corporate coliseums.

How depressing is it that NBA arenas have to elicit fans to chant “defense” or rely on a sideshow clown public-address announcer to fire up a crowd? The most important part of an NBA club might not be its All-Star shooting guard or legendary coach, but rather its marketing department.

The pro sports experience doesn’t cut it. I’ve been to tons of OSU football games and tons of Bengals games. As far as exhilarating occasions go, it’s no contest.

In professional sports, there’s FedEx Field, Nationwide Arena and the Staples Center. In the realm of collegiate athletics, stadiums have nicknames: The Pit, The Horseshoe and Death Valley.

Everything that lacks in a professional sports environment, a college one has. Maybe it’s the presence of the school band. Maybe it’s the palpable tension in the air. Or maybe it’s the cheerleaders. It’s different in the best possible way.

Too often, professional athletes play for self rather than soul. One is more inclined to hear, “Throw me the damn ball” instead of marveling at a player’s Rudy-esque grit.

This isn’t to say professional athletes don’t try, don’t have pride and simply don’t care just because they’re paid. In most cases, that’s flat-out wrong.

But the college athlete is a special type of person. Balancing textbooks, playbooks and dealing with reporters’ notebooks week in and week out isn’t an easy task. There are times when I feel completely overwhelmed just by my writing endeavors. I can’t imagine what it’s like for a physically demanding prospect tossed into the hat.

Perhaps the purest way to etch the difference is a simple human emotion: a sense of belonging. College athletics give you a sense of pride. They give us alma maters, both in song and on a resume. There’s a sense of innocence.

The overwhelming majority of college athletes won’t go pro in the sports they compete in. I’m sure the scholarship money is nice. But so many play just for the thrill of competition. They do it for the love of the game.

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