this article appeared in the November 5, 2009 edition of the Swarthmore Phoenix.
BY KEVIN FRIEDENBERG
After reading a Rick Reilly column on ESPN.com comparing the life of USC’s star freshman quarterback Matt Barkley with that of another USC freshman student, I began to reflect about my own experience as a scholar-athlete.
From reading Reilly’s column, it’s instantly clear that Barkley already lives the life of a superstar.
How could he not? The kid is 19 years old and is seen every week by hundreds of thousands of fans on the biggest stage in college football. There are already “mock drafts” that predict Barkley will be picked in the first round of the NFL Draft in two years.
Regardless of the fame, the potential big bills contracts, and the tremendous opportunities that are a reality for Barkley everyday of his life, I would never trade my experience as a scholar-athlete for his.
Sure, the cynics among you out there are probably saying this is all bogus; who wouldn’t want a life like Matt Barkley?
I’m not saying it isn’t a sweet deal to be a star quarterback at a storied university with a tremendous future. I’m just trying to say that the life of a Division III athlete isn’t half bad either.
With only one spring season left in my collegiate athletic career, it’s no secret that I’m in the autumn of my experience as a Division III lacrosse player. Looking back over my time at Swarthmore, a few things immediately come to mind when thinking about how my college experience has been different than Barkley’s.
I don’t speak on behalf of many Division I athletes by any means, but whenever I come into contact with Division I players (coaching camps, mutual friends, etc.) I always ask them if they like playing at the Division I level. Nine times out of 10, I hear “not really” or “I guess.”
Again, this is only a small sample of players I have come into contact with, but whenever people ask me if I like playing lacrosse in college my answer is unquestioningly, “I love every minute of it.” At the end of the day, if it isn’t fun, then why do it?
The one thing I truly believe makes Division III the best level of sports to participate in is the practices. Some of my fondest memories from college come from just being on the turf with 30 of my closest friends, watching the pieces of our team come together as a whole.
The overarching feeling, though, is that being out there is just plain fun. Even when we get fired up at each other, even when the snow is really coming down around us and even when I don’t have a great practice, I’d still rather be out on the field with my teammates than anywhere else.
I feel tremendously privileged to feel the way about playing a sport that I do, because I’m sure for many athletes like Matt Barkley, it isn’t all that fun.
I certainly don’t have to put up with national media outlets or disgruntled fans maligning me on the Internet after a bad loss. I simply get to enjoy the sport. Let’s not get confused though. Division III isn’t just about having fun, much like my Phoenix columnist brother Andrew Greenblatt noted in his column about D-III athletics. We are real athletes here to win games.
The real love for the game as Division III athletes comes out in the offseason. Swarthmore isn’t USC; our team doesn’t have a platoon of strength and conditioning coaches watching over our shoulders to see who’s improving and who needs to get in gear. We do it because we are highly motivated people who get a lot of intrinsic value out of making ourselves and our teammates better.
I see scholar-athletes of all sports working hard down in the weight room or out on the track and you can see it in their faces that they enjoy it.
You might not consciously admit that you like the feeling of burning lungs or aching muscles, but the bond between teammates that is forged through pain and hard work in the offseason is incredible.
You put in the work because you love the game and you love your team. It’s not even a hard decision to make. Winning games and being a committed team in the offseason doesn’t have to be mutually exclusive with enjoying the game for what it is.
Being part of a sport at this school has been one of the best experiences of my life.
Sure, I’m not going to draw a multi-million dollar salary, I’ve never met Will Ferrell on the field after one of my games and kids don’t constantly snap photos of me on their phones (that I know of).
But I don’t envy Matt Barkley at all. I can’t even imagine the pressure that poor kid has to face every week, but I can certainly imagine that it makes him lose a little bit of the love for the game.
Fortunately as D-III athletes, we typically get to avoid the distractions that constantly attack large programs at large universities. We just have the sport, plain and simple.
When we are in season, I look forward to that time each day when I head down to the field house because there is nowhere I’d rather be than down on that field with my team.