ZIPF: College sports are last chance at innocence for many

Michael Zipf

As I was watching the NFL draft and saw 20- year-old Georgia quarterback Matt Stafford with flash bulbs bouncing of his grinning face and ESPN announcers proclaiming him as the savior of a failing Detroit Lions franchise, I began to reflect on how prominent sports are in a college student’s life. Whether you are involved in a varsity, club or intramural program, for many college students, sports serves as a sanctuary or safe haven. As I glanced across campus on NovaFest weekend among hundreds of beer cans and smoke filled grills, there were countless students engaged in games of volleyball, Wiffleball, soccer, basketball and football.

This scene illustrated to me how sports not only serve as a source of entertainment, but also as a source of relaxation. During the course of the year, students endure the stresses of school work, jobs and relationships and often use sports as a way to escape life’s challenges. Moreover, the lessons and relationships that sports harness intrinsically provide us a pathway toward overcoming obstacles and embracing life’s endeavors. As a senior, I have been fortunate to cover and witness countless Villanova sporting events. The sense of civic pride and unity that transpires at such events reminds me why sports reign so prominently at Villanova.

One student summarized sports’ influence on his collegiate life with the following statement,”Villanova’s sports programs, especially the men’s basketball program, gave me something to support. It was something bigger than just me that I could put my whole heart into. It brought college to life.” Many Villanova students would echo this statement and depict how sports have enhanced their college experience.

As I watched Stafford walk confidently to the podium to shake the commissioner’s hand, I wondered why a college athlete would want to leave a college sports environment. And then I remembered what my sports sociology professor once said: “You might think there’s nothing wrong with sports, but it isn’t all good.”

While watching Stafford ink one of the richest contracts in NFL history, a six-year $72 million contract with $42 million guaranteed upfront, I glanced at my computer and saw the following statements, “High school junior Jermaine Taylor skipping senior year to compete in Europe,” “Feds charge women with extortion in Pitino Case” and “Top high school pitching prospect demanding record setting signing bonus.” The headlines were a daily reminder that for all the great memories, lessons and relationships sports create, there are ugly moments that proliferate throughout sports.

Regardless of the fulfillment and enjoyment college students have watching and participating in their favorite collegiate programs, today’s college sports world has transformed itself into an ugly corporate enterprise. Throwing a football around on campus while enjoying a few beers is no longer the typical college phenomena. Instead, college sports on almost every level have embraced the corporate motto, “maximize the bottom line,” i.e. win at all cost. The ideals of sportsmanship, camaraderie and fun have been replaced with multimillion dollar contracts, cheating scandals and violence. A couple of days ago, I was participating in an intramural softball game and I was waiting for a brawl to erupt after countless innings of bickering between the opposing teams. The obsession to win has played a disconcerting role in college athletics, particularly on the varsity level, where there are numerous stories of athletes engaging in point shaving schemes, illegal substances to gain advantages and coaches instructing players to blatantly injure opponents. As students, we should be thankful for all that sports have to offer our University. In addition, we should be appreciative that a majority of the student body embraces sports’ true essence. We should be thankful that we can come together as a community and learn the true value of friendships, sportsmanship and competition. And I hope that one day people recognize how important sports are in the college experience, but don’t neglect the fact there needs to be changes made in today’s college sport’s culture so that journalists like myself don’t need to cover such headlines as “University of Miami safety shot and killed,” “Play temporarily suspended at Illinois due to unruly fans” and “Father of college ice hockey player killed due to fan brawl.”

I am thankful for having been able to cover a wide variety of Villanova’s athletic programs over the last four years, and I am grateful that our athletes provide our campus with a source of entertainment, escape and civic pride.


Michael Zipf is a senior accounting and finance major from Morristown, N.J. He can be reached at michael. [email protected].