After the LeBron James spectacle Thursday night The Decision is easy:
College sports are better than pro sports.
It has nothing to do with the level of talent, the size of the egos or the accusations of hypocrisy. The quality of life for a college fan is significantly better due to one thing.
From a talent standpoint pro players are obviously better than their college counterparts. Pro teams are all better. The NCAA champion Duke Blue Devils wouldn’t be able to beat the 12-70 New Jersey Nets because every pro team is a college (and international) all-star team. Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide would get rolled by the Detroit Lions. No one is debating that.
This also has nothing to do with ego. James’ TV special was an overblown version of the same “Look at me!” stunt that high school seniors pull when they step in front of cameras to announce which college’s athletic scholarship they’re going to accept. Take away an arrogant jerk’s paycheck and you get an amateur arrogant jerk.
The length-of-service argument also doesn’t apply. College players only stay for four years (or two years, or eight months) while the pros perform as long as their bodies hold up. But I’d rather have exclusive fan rights to a guy for a couple years than invest a decade of rooting only to have my favorite player leave and stay that “real friends” and “true fans” will understand.
In a three-year span pro sports fans in Cleveland have lost two Cy Young Award winners and the best basketball player on the planet. Give me four fleeting college years any day.
The departure of LeBron James isn’t just devastating to Cavalier fans for the present and future. It’s a hard drive defrag that forever alters how their past is perceived. It is now impossible for Cleveland fans to get any enjoyment from memories of the past seven years. The highlight-reel plays, the 60-win seasons, the trip to the NBA Finals? Tainted, stained, devastated.
The LeBron Era in Cleveland instantly changed from “The Resurrection of our Franchise” to “This Is Why They Tell You Not To Get Your Hopes Up.”
There is no worse feeling than being betrayed. It has nothing to do with whether or not the other person is justified in moving on. All that matters is I poured everything into my relationship with you, and you left for someone else.
The simplicity of college eligibility protects us from betrayal. If Mike Bibby leaves Arizona early it’s to go to the NBA, not play for Arizona State. Wildcat fans wanted Rob Gronkowski to come back to school but nobody’s burning his jersey.
USC fans didn’t torch Reggie Bush or even O.J. Simpson jerseys. The numbers of both tarnished Trojans are still retired and on display in the L.A. Coliseum. Can you imagine a plausible scenario where you would want to burn Sean Elliot’s jersey, Tedy Bruschi’s hair, or Jennie Finch’s gold bikini?
Lance Briggs can say “I’ll always be a U of A Wildcat” because it’s true. He could play for 11 NFL teams but there will never be a second college team on his resume. Yes, players can transfer in college but stars don’t transfer. LeBron won two MVP awards. The Pac-10 Player of the Year never transfers.
College coaches, on the other hand, do have the freedom to challenge fan loyalty. The perfect example is right here in the Pac-10 where Mike Montgomery coached at Stanford 18 years before ending up at the Cardinal’s biggest rival, with a short NBA stay in between.
Stanford fans can be angry at Montgomery but still keep the memories of his tenure happy by associating them with players. Mark Madsen’s dunk (and dance) to beat Rhode Island. Nick Robinson’s buzzer-beater (and Tiger Woods’ jeans) against Arizona. None of that loses any value because Mike Montgomery is at Cal. A Stanford fan still wears his 1998 Final Four t-shirt with pride. A Cleveland Cavalier fan will never enjoy doing anything with a 2007 NBA Finals t-shirt except putting a match to it.
Most sports fans root for both college and pro teams but you only get one true love. If your NFL team has a game on at the same time as your college football team, which do you watch? If you could request free tickets to any sporting event, what would it be? That’s how you know if you’re primarily a college fan or a pro fan.
If you’re a college fan, consider yourself lucky. If you’re a pro fan, the NBA events of this past week might leave you feeling like you should make a Decision.