So, what is my college team? I get this question asked quite often because I have worked for several universities, attended a number, and just like a few more. College is a great place to make a career. From the campus traditions to the classroom, to the not so fun times there is so much that matters and connects with each one of us who call a college campus our career location. And for many of us, our love for college sports also runs deep. We love the feel of gameday in the fall. The band playing in the quad, the changing weather, the roar of the crowd. We love seeing our students get so excited and the smell of the grass at the stadium. I also love a packed gym for a critical basketball game. The tense feeling as students become fans to fanatics. We wear our colors and chant our closely held cheers. We paint our faces and talk smack to our rivals, we print t-shirts, and heckle the refs. Its all just perfect.
I am going to make this simple. If one person were going pin me down and force me to reply to this question, I would say what the appropriate answer is always – I cheer for my paycheck. If I am currently employed by the university playing, then that is my squad. I learned this valuable lesson in grand school. I was with my cohort and we were traveling throughout the south visiting Historically Black Colleges and Universities to learn more about this group of colleges. While we were touring Southern University in Baton Rouge, I noticed the Dean of Students had a Grambling University diploma on his wall. As we were chatting, I leaned over and asked, “so, who do you cheer for at the Bayou Classic each fall?” The dean looked back at me and said, “well that is easy, you always root for your paycheck.” That has stuck with me forever.
I guess then, I cheer for the University of Central Florida Knights. And that is just fine. They are fun to watch, they are generally good in all the sports I enjoy watching, and they provide my salary and benefits. But I do have other colleges I really love based on my career but for the purposes of this post I am going to rank order what colleges and sports I really connect with and whom do not or no longer pay me and the reason why:
- University of North Carolina Basketball – I have been a UNC devotee since I was a little kid. My father loved Carolina and that powder blue and white is at the core of my love for college sports.
- East Carolina Football – I can tell you the exact date I knew college was for me. It was October 26, 1991. I was a freshman at ECU, and we came into the game ranked 23rd and played the 24th ranked Pitt Panthers. Jeff Blake scored on a two-point conversation to win the game and the stadium went bananas. I remember looking up to the sky and proclaiming, “I LOVE COLLEGE!”
- University of Miami Football – I was born in North Carolina, but I grew up in Miami. And I got to watch UM during their imperial period. A friend of mine in high school took me to see Miami and Florida State play and Catholics vs. Convicts 2 between Miami and Notre Dame. I gotta admit, I loved the swagger and attitude. It really connected me to the idea of identity through college.
- Stephen F. Austin State University Basketball – Both the men and women’s teams have spoken to my heart. I worked at SFA and our teams were both good and connected to our campuses. When I was in my third year, I was asked to do the click effects for the games. This is the system where I played the music and sound effects. This role allowed me to really connect with the players and coaches.
- Southern Illinois University – Carbondale Basketball – When I was a student at SIUC I just fell in love with Saluki basketball. The stadium and crowd were just amazing, I love Missouri Valley Conference basketball and get so excited when Arch Madness comes around.
- Gonzaga Basketball – I lived for a time in Spokane, Washington and back in the day, when no one was talking about them, I would get free tickets to games as a paperboy. I feel this was the first real access to a college campus I had, and I know it had an impact on my desire to attend college.
- Mississippi State Football – my kid attends Mississippi State, so we attend Mississippi State and thus we are a #HailState family.
There are lots of teams and moments that also matter to be, but these are the magnificent seven. I hope you find a team you can follow or think more critically as to which team you want to connect with. College sports is great and add to the campus climate. So, get your poms out and paint your face! Go team!