This column was written when Seth Greenberg was the head coach at Virginia Tech.
How many college sports span two semesters? Just one. Unlike football, which begins and ends in the fall semester or baseball, which is starts and finishes in the second semester, college basketball covers both.
The length of the season is something that many observers simply take for granted in that they don’t truly appreciate the demands it puts on those involved. Practice begins long before the family gathers for Thanksgiving dinner. And by the time it’s all over, many Americans will be celebrating the Easter holiday.
It’s a grind!
The demands, both academically and emotionally are tremendous. Anyone who has ever attended a college or university understands the discipline that it necessary to achieve success. Now couple that with practice and games. And that doesn’t include travel and potential media demands.
As fans it’s easy to overlook such factors. After all, the great majority has never been through the rigors of the season. Without a reference point, it is difficult if not impossible to relate.
But imagine often missing that Thanksgiving dinner with your family. Think about “at-best” an abbreviated Christmas or Hanukah with your love ones. Now go back to your college days and imagine working on fundamentals while your friends soak up the sun during Spring Break.
These facts are especially challenging to incoming freshmen.
Quite often people will wonder why young players, who began the season playing so well, have hit a wall of sorts in January of February. Quite often there is good reason for this.
As a high school senior you have been told what the college game is like and you think you have a pretty good grasp on the NCAA experience. Once you get on campus it doesn’t take long to realize that it’s much different then you had expected.
As coaches we do our best to help the young players get acclimated to their new situations. For many it’s their first time being far from home and therein lies another factor that many don’t often consider.
For freshmen the game within the game can be a tough mountain to climb, but the angle of the incline doesn’t diminish for the upperclassmen.
With conference tournament just around the bend, the holiday season seems like a distant memory for most, but many juniors and seniors haven’t had a real holiday with the family in four or five years.
It’s not easy watching everyone on campus pack their bags and head home to visit family, knowing that you will spend the next four, five or six weeks in what amounts to a ghost town.
By in large campuses all across the country are deserted for most of December of January. That can be a difficult thing for players to deal with. And just when it seems like everyone is back in school, the bags are packed again and students depart for Spring Break.
Let’s not forget -- These are kids.
In the coming weeks a great number of players, all across the country, will be thrust into the spotlight because of big shots, big steals, big rebounds and big wins. But the spotlight will also highlight the big miss, big turnover, big foul and the big loss.
Nobody plays the game in hopes of experiencing the latter, but it is the reality of the game. Dealing with that can often be difficult, to say the least.
If you have a bad day in the office, your boss may say something to you. However chances are that it won’t be written about in the local paper or discussed across the airwaves. Likewise, when you perform above and beyond in the office, your boss may commend you, but chances are that you won’t receive a standing ovation from your co-workers.
The point doesn’t highlight the length of the season, but the positive or negative result can linger through a long season, neither of which is necessarily good. It cannot be stressed enough -- They are just kids and we expect and often demand too much.
By this point many of you are undoubtedly rolling your eyes and chuckling at the thought of a college basketball player having a tough and demanding existence. Perhaps there was some effect attached to the points above, but only for the purposes of highlighting the realities.
I am not trying to make anyone weep for student athlete, but I do think that a better understanding of the tremendous demands is all too often dismissed in favor of the glamour.
It’s not all glitz and glamour.