Caught up in hoopla that is March Madness, we often forget that these guys are not yet paid to play.
Eggs are delicate things and we’re told from a young age that we shouldn’t count what might come out of them before they hatch. Our hopes might only be there to be dashed. It’s an old-timey saying usually told to expectant children by exasperated parents who are either bored or broken or both. It’s meant to quell any expectations of success or grandeur and unfortunately, for the most part, it is accurate and true.
The American Dream is dead everybody; we’re not all growing up to win Cy Young awards and back-to-back MVPs on any level of play. The few of us who are are freaks of the highest order with flat-out genetic mutations and carefully selected mechanics and means. The Jameses, Tigers and Gretzkys. The Jordans and Jimmers and Joneses. We can’t keep up with them and we were never meant to. We were meant to live in their shadows, in awe of their vastly superior design. We were meant to live in debt to their skill and to the franchises who sign them.
The long and short of it is that we just weren’t meant to play with them on any level at all.
And so much for eggs. For the one percent of college athletes who actually make it to the bigs, most will only ever play marginal roles and even more will wash out. Some small percentage in the middle will excel and be traded for outrageous sums of money in card stores across America but the majority will need a fallback plan to fall back on. Most won’t be able to play at that level either.
Which brings us to Fab Melo, Syracuse, student athletes and the greed monster that governs all sports. Every year about this time, college’s best take center stage in a tournament that generates embarrassing sums of money for major networks like CBS and TNT. The NCAA also walks away with a handsome dowry for producing the talent, and advertisers everywhere rejoice. Student athletes are for a time put on pedestal, allowed to bask in the spotlight as people struggle to keep their names straight and then they are forgotten. Unless they are cut from the indelible sporting cloth they are cast to the wayside. So long, sayonara, good riddance and all that goes with it.
Yet the ever-hungry sporting press will make them heroes or goats even if it is only for a moment and they will never see a dime for their efforts. Their 15 minutes will net them no income, it will pay no bills. Be them goats or Gods it will only ever be 15 minutes of fame and never a penny more…
The story to rip the headlines two days before the tournament began was the ineligibility of Fab Melo. We went mad. How could Fab Melo, the Syracuse center responsible in large part for an effective 2-3 zone and the only player on the team capable of offensive boards, be out? What does this mean for a top seeded Syracuse? What does this mean for our brackets? Why would Fab Melo do this to us?
Not a single headline worth its weight in salt bothered to comment on the ineligibility, only that he was ineligible. Fab Melo didn’t take the court on Thursday over an academic issue that he had failed to resolve earlier in the season. We can credit the boy for having his head in the game but ‘student athlete’ is written in a certain order for a certain reason. They are students and then athletes and while their RPG is important to us their GPA has to be important for them.
Fab Melo will shatter no ceilings in the NBA. Seven feet is a hell of a lot of height but a defensive center with limited offensive upside will only ever go so far. What does a mind-numbing number of blocks mean on a resume for a job off the hard court? And what does an average of 7.8 points a game mean on it? Melo is your prototypical college case of a student athlete caught between two worlds and we, the fans and the sporting press would be mindful to remember that he does this for free, that his future is uncertain and his finances are not guaranteed.
Melo might want to be mindful of that too.