As I stood in the student section at Tuesday night’s first round NIT match up between Ohio State and Akron, all those feelings I’ve always felt toward college sports, specifically college basketball, were reaffirmed in me.
At its core, it’s not about money, or draft stock, or making an individual name for yourself.
It’s about the unique environment and the passion, effort, and pride for one’s team and school.
It’s about the small but mighty section of Zips fans that competed admirably with one of the smallest–but possibly the loudest and most enthusiastic–Schottenstein Center crowds of the season.
It’s about Kam Williams celebrating a clutch layup as if the Buckeyes were moving on to the Final Four in Houston.
It’s about college students playing a sport that they love.
This was a first round NIT match up. Akron and Ohio State could have each chosen to sleep walk through this game.
It was a game that few outside of the arena cared about, yet those on the inside–fans and players alike–wanted to win more than anything.
No, it wasn’t a sellout and was very clearly not the highest quality of basketball. But for a game that on the surface meant so little, both Buckeyes and Zips players played how basketball should be played.
If top-level basketball is what you crave, college basketball may not always be for you. But games like Ohio State-Akron remind me why I prefer the college game to the NBA. When you take out the corruption of the NCAA and school administrations, it becomes basketball in its purest form–ten players giving everything they have for the love of the game.
In the NBA, you don’t get 150 fans of the away team mockingly–yet incredibly loud and passionately–changing every O-H-I-O chant to Z-I-P-S as if they were a student section. You don’t get awkwardly cheerful mascots like Zippy (pictured below). And you don’t get to see demonstrated what nearly every team in the world of amateur sports prides itself on–family.
To me, college basketball represents playground basketball at its finest.
Call me crazy, but I’ll take college kids playing their hearts out over professional basketball any day of the week.