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March Madness and the Student Athlete

A look at both sides of commitment in collegiate athletics.

I've had the good fortune over the past two seasons to be one of the radio play-by-play announcers for Quinnipiac University sports on the school's commercial radio station, AM-1220 WQUN. Play-by-play "gigs" are very hard to come by in the radio business (even for someone who's been doing this as long as I have), so I jumped at the chance to do the games when I was approached last season.

One of the unique rewards of being a specific team's play-by-play announcer or analyst is the chance to get to know the players and coaches. Watching practices, interviewing players and coaches and traveling with the team from time to time gives you a unique perspective on what makes a group of athletes who all happen to wear the same uniform tick. You get a good look at their likes, dislikes, work habits and yes, who the "free spirits" are.

And on the college level, you're also reminded that the players are student athletes. Emphasis on the word "student."

I know, I know. I'm not saying anything revolutionary here. It's debated and discussed all the time ad nauseum.

But the reality of the commitment that college-level athletes are required to make was driven home again to me when again in a simple way when -- during a road trip with the Quinnipiac men's hockey team this past season -- I turned around to look toward the rear of our bus and saw most of the team with opened textbooks, and pens or pencils in hand.

"Nice," I whispered to myself. The way it should be. Young men holding up their end of the bargain as thousands of college athletes do all over the country. Go to practice, play the games, work hard, and in return, get an education worth $30,000 to $50,000 per year, for four years.      

I think of this now because as March Madness begins, I'm sure we're within hours of hearing the first self-indulgent whine of, "You know, these players should be paid by the university. They work so hard and make the school's so much money."

We'll see filled arenas, televised games with sold out commercials slots and perhaps read about the ratings bonanza that this game or that game was for CBS.  

Yes, college athletes they work hard, very hard. And yes, in many instances, certain programs at certain schools are very profitable and get those schools regional and national recognition worth millions of dollars.

And yes, the athletes are getting paid. They're getting an education. An education valued at well into six figures at the vast majority of schools. An education that millions of other families pay for however they can.

In our cynical society, we often forget that a deal is a deal, and a commitment is a commitment. An agreement takes an honest effort from both sides. And that unique ideal of college athletics was driven home again to me a few weeks ago by a bunch of guys from Quinnipiac with open textbooks, sitting in a bus rolling through the snow-covered hills of Upstate New York.

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