Tonawanda News

Bob Confer

December 20, 2011

CONFER: All for the love of the game

— — In my younger years I was, like any red-blooded American, an avid fan of professional sports. I tried not to miss the baseball and football highlight shows, Monday Night Football, and my annual pilgrimage to Pittsburgh to catch my beloved Chicago Cubs while they were in town.

But, when I hit 30 years of age, things changed dramatically. Just like a switch, my love for the pros turned right off. Now I rarely watch any football or baseball highlights. I couldn’t even tell you the last time I watched a football game from start to finish. As a matter of fact, I can’t even name the starting rotation for the Cubs.

You see, as I aged, I grew disgusted by pro sports. I was driven away by the greed, egos and outlandish salaries, and maddened by the marketing that somehow makes everyone believe pro sports are the most important thing in the world and worth every exorbitant penny. From those criteria, numerous disdainful questions have wracked my brain. Why can people name their team’s starting lineup but not their elected officials? Why do fathers abandon their sons and daughters on Sundays? Why should taxpayers feel obligated to pay for the stadiums of billion-dollar leagues? What human being is worth a quarter of a billion dollars — just to hit a stupid ball?

Even though my admiration of pro sports died, my appreciation for sport, itself, did not. I still value the thrill of competition, the drama of a good match-up, and the diversion from daily stress that spectator sports present. Instead of finding that joy in the big leagues, I find it in a setting that I had become accustomed to in the early 1990s: College campuses.

These are not just any campus. Most Division I programs (especially when it comes to football and basketball) are no better than the pros. They emphasize athletics over academics, while many of their athletes play only for a chance to reap big rewards from the NFL and NBA, leagues that use DI as some sort of minor league system and, somehow, get away with it!

Instead, I get my athletic fix from Division III programs. In DIII, the emphasis is on academics over athletics. There are no sports scholarships. The athletes are talented, but they understand that they have almost no chance of playing professional sports, knowing that guys like the Buffalo Bills’ Fred Jackson are anomalies. In DIII, they play for the love of the game. That’s it.

It’s that pristine brand of competition — free of the trappings of avarice — that make DIII sports so refreshing. Where else can you find men and women playing a game at a high level with only the sports’ basic tenets in mind? They pursue victory with vigor, aided by the bond of teamwork and guided by their own ethic and determination, driven for personal betterment on the field and in the mind. That emotion and desire among the players — and also the fans — in DIII is unparalleled in all of sports.

The best sporting events I’ve ever witnessed have, far and away, been in DIII football stadiums and ice arenas. I’ve seen many a tight game and marveled at countless exciting plays. And to think, they were playing for free and my ticket cost me only $5.

You have plenty of chances to take part in these events in Western New York. It’s been said, depending on who you ask, that we’re either a football town or a hockey town. Either way, the games await. DIII football can be had at Brockport, Alfred University and Buffalo State. DIII hockey — which has a rabid fan base (me among them) — can be found at Brockport, Buffalo State, Fredonia and Geneseo.   

If you’ve never savored a DIII game, make it a point to do so. You won’t regret it and you, too, might even change your outlook on athletics for the better and turn your allegiance from the pros to players who understand the real value of sport.

Bob Confer is a Gasport resident and vice president of Confer Plastics Inc. in North Tonawanda. His column is published on Mondays. Email him at bobconfer@juno.com.

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