The epitome of dramatic irony in sports this year fell on Miami freshman Glenn Sharpe—the cornerback whistled for pass interference on fourth down in the first overtime of Ohio State’s victory in the Fiesta Bowl. It’s one of those great moments of human frailty that sportswriters like me love to exploit.
Sharpe distinctly turns to the field judge in search of a flag, and finds none. Just a moment before ABC switches cameras, millions of viewers see a flash of yellow on the field. But Sharpe does not. In celebrating a supposed national championship, he has already turned his back to the official.
What makes this moment so gut-wrenching is the larger context. It’s a championship game—in particular, a collegiate one, and that carries a lot of baggage. In any such event, the fate of the entire universe rests in the balance—or at the very least it seems like it. You get at most four chances to win a championship. Your teammates are often your best friends. Your team can be eliminated in just one day after months of preparation. The resulting passion and high stakes are why I cover college sports.
That’s why whenever any Division I NCAA championship is televised, I watch, and if I can go, I go. This is the highest form of competition not because the athletes are necessarily the most talented and skilled in the world, but because they just flat-out compete. This view causes a shocking number of people to think I’m a screwball. Imagine the spite I get when I watch the College Softball World Series instead of the Red Sox. I feel this way not because of some kind of psychosis, but because I’ve just had more fulfilling experiences involving college sports.
And here at Harvard, there are more varsity sports than at any other school—41 of them. I can’t walk 10 yards here without bumping into an athlete, though this is because I often fail to watch where I’m going. I’m not going to lie and say that I actually enjoyed reading and writing about all 41. But I will say that I think the glut of sports fans here who came in here thinking only some subset of football, men’s hockey and men’s basketball mattered missed out on at least a couple other sports they would have enjoyed watching regularly had they taken the time to get acquainted.
That, at the very least, has been my experience. During my senior spring of high school, I developed an affinity for softball out of nowhere when my high school made a run to the 1999 Division I Massachusetts state championship. That experience inspired me to pay closer attention to a greater variety of sports in college. Four years later I’ve written over 400 articles for The Crimson. Perhaps I overcompensated a tad.
No sport exemplifies my transition from indifference to utter dependence better than women’s ice hockey. It’s well known at The Crimson that women’s hockey was the subject of over a quarter of my articles, but often forgotten is that I watched just two women’s hockey games to completion my freshman year.
The difference was that second game I covered freshman year. It happened to be a season-ending 3-2 Harvard overtime loss to Dartmouth in the ECAC semifinals. While it is easily was one of the most disappointing defeats in Harvard hockey history, it also was one of the greatest comebacks. Down 2-0 in the third period, Harvard came back and tied the game with just 6.5 seconds left. The comeback was so stunning I recall I needed to walk about three laps around Brown’s Meehan Auditorium in order to calm myself down. No doubt that game sold me for life on the sport of women’s college hockey.
I don’t think I’m alone there. This year a record crowd of 5,167 watched the NCAA championship between Minnesota-Duluth and Harvard. Overshadowed in Duluth’s 4-3 double overtime victory is that Harvard took just one minute to come back from a 2-0 first-period deficit. I’m confident that the thousands of people who felt ambivalence towards women’s hockey prior to watching—whether from the stands of from their homes—felt the same way about that game as I felt about the Dartmouth game three years ago. Given that, I hope that no one thinks for a second those two Harvard comebacks were at all in vain.
Recent developments make me optimistic that a couple decades from now people won’t think I’m as much of a screwball. A year ago ESPN purchased the broadcast rights to 21 NCAA championships, including the entire women’s basketball tournament and the Women’s College World Series. A new network called College Sports Television, available on DirecTV, is providing coverage of just about every aspect of college sports that the major networks don’t pick up on. Maybe someday I’ll be able to introduce a column on the greatness of college sports without resorting to football in order to relate to the masses.
On a pessimistic note, however, I don’t want to see the Ivy League left far behind on the national scene, as irrelevant as football in every sport. The ideal NCAA team—in short, a group of good people who can perform about as well as their peers in school and can still can compete for national championships—is not easily obtained. Ivy teams are among the most capable of achieving this goal, so why are they subject to the most arbitrary competitive restrictions in the country? If the Ivies continues to discriminate against its student-athletes, the league will fall further from the competitive mainstream. Then those schools that get televised in NCAA championships will move further from the ideal. That way we all lose.
I relished every one of the dozen or so NCAA tournaments I covered for the Crimson. My first was an NCAA softball regional in Oklahoma my freshman year, courtesy of one athletic department subsidy that I’m forever thankful for. The energy you feel at these championships is just so addictive. I don’t take a moment of them for granted.
I felt an even stronger sense of gratitude during the NCAA women’s hockey championship game, which took place during the first week of the U.S. war with Iraq. I only watched fleeting moments of the news when I was in Duluth, but the pre-game moment of silence reminded me, wasn’t my father in the First Infantry headed for Vietnam when he was 21 years old? My greatest concern at the same age is the result of a hockey game. How thankful—and lucky—I am to have that luxury. How wasteful would it be for me not to enjoy it to the fullest.
—Staff writer David R. De Remer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.