I Think I Actually Do Love Sports

Why do we follow sports?  I started thinking about this last night as I watched the surprisingly fun Belk Bowl.  Duke not only managed to lose in spectacular fashion, but also provided one of the greatest “back door covers” for betting enthusiasts around the country.  I texted a couple of friends last night as it was winding down that watching college football during bowl season was like watching football on acid.  You just sit back relax and enjoy the weirdness.

That is part of the reason we like college football.  It is way more unpredictable then the NFL.  That is what happens when the game is played by what may be the most emotionally unpredictable group of people on the planet: 18-22 year old college students.  College football also offers deep traditions and ties to hearth and home.

The NFL by contrast is an adrenaline and gambling filled weekly cable drama.  It has a limited run.  It is filled with compelling characters whose behavior while sometimes predictable is almost always illuminating.  Also, because it has such a finite time and space filled with larger than life characters it is a powder keg of emotion.  Also, it is probably the friendliest gambling and fantasy sport going.

I’m beginning to wonder about college basketball and why we continue to watch.  Where college football seems to be growing in popularity, college basketball is an afterthought for most people until March.  The powers that be in college basketball (and basketball in general) seem indifferent or outright hostile to the sport.  The NCAA, NBA, and NBA Player Association won’t try to create some rules that make everyone happy while giving players the best options for their playing future.  Of course the NCAA is hostile to all of its players in division I and the NBAPA is a dysfunctional mess.

Anyway, we watch the NBA because it is the most player friendly sport going.  There are only 10 players on the court at a time and they are virtually naked wearing only a tank top and shorts.  Night after night, you can see the players’ emotions first hand with no filter.  It seems almost like you develop a personal relationship with them.

If the NFL is a high brow cable drama with a short run, soccer is a long running daily soap opera.  It provides the same personal connection to players as basketball with the outsized personalities of football.  Take the Barclay’s Premiere League; there are 38 games from August to May.  However, most teams in the BPL also play in various cup (tournaments) competitions.  There is the FA Cup, the Capital One Cup, the UEFA Cup (European championship), and the Euro Cup (European NIT).

So fans of English soccer get the chance to watch multiple episodes every week of their favorite characters running into each other, yelling at each other, doing dumb things, and doing brilliant things all with the specter of too much money and too much privilege thrown in to make it interesting.

Yes, they are silly games, but they are so much more than that.  Sports are a form of entertainment played out through athleticism and raw emotion.  We find characters and teams that we love and others that we loathe.  It is constantly moving forward with no repeats.  Sports touch on themes repeatedly across seasons hoping to find resolution, but never quite getting there.  Sports are alternately uplifting and disappointing.  Sports are like life except when a season ends you just walk away knowing a new one is just around the corner.

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