Myths and mysteries: a guest forum on college sports over time

Tuesday at partner site Awful Announcing, I offered a list of 10 unsung #CollegeSportsTwitter stars worth following for 2016.

I invited all of the honorees to answer two questions:

1) What is the biggest myth in college sports?

2) What is the most underreported story in college sports over the past 25 years?

A few of the tweeps on the list answered the questions. Here, Jeff W. of the Basketball Predictions blogsite steps up to the plate.

One brief word before giving Jeff the floor: The point of these guest forums is not to say or suggest that these ideas and opinions are somehow more “right” than yours or others. These are the opinions of the authors, not The Student Section. The purpose of exposing you to these opinions is that they’re fully-formed opinions, from people I’ve come to trust as worthy discussion (sometimes sparring) partners. We’re here to exchange ideas, not to instantly stamp a piece of commentary as right or wrong.

Jeff now has the floor:

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Biggest myth: That college athletes are fundamentally different human beings from every other kid in college.

The media (depending on their personal perspective) fits athletes into narrative boxes. You have the super-talented kids who demand bags of cash, a job for three uncles, and a blowjob on campus before they sign. Then you have the white kid from Iowa who draws a lot of offensive fouls, is the greatest leader of men since Churchill, and spends 78 hours per week visiting sick kids in hospitals.

The reality is that most college athletes live like most other students. Sure, sports dominates their life, but the same is true for non-revenue-sport athletes, and the same is true for other undergrads with passionate interests (musicians, writers, artists, scientific researchers, etc.). They can’t be fit into a narrative box anymore than the rest of us can.

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The most underreported story of the last 25 years: How many incredible athletes there are now. We watch world records getting mowed down in every sport with objective record-keeping (track and field, swimming, etc.), yet we pretend that the football and basketball athletes from the 1970s and 1980s were somehow better than the guys now.

Emmitt Smith was considered one of the greatest athletic freaks of all-time because he was built like a truck (5’9″, 210 pounds) and was also a sprinter. A member of Florida’s track and field team, he ran 9.9 in the 100-yard dash (equivalent to ~11.0s machine-timed in the 100-meter dash), and ran a 4.52 in the 40-yard dash in the run-up to the NFL draft. He was even faster than Jerry Rice, the greatest receiver of all time, who ran a 4.59 in the 40-yard dash before the NFL draft. Yet those times would barely get a wide receiver or running back drafted anymore. Matt Forte is even bigger than Emmitt Smith (6’2″, 218 pounds), yet he was significantly faster (4.44 in the 40-yard dash), even though he only went to Tulane and got drafted in the second round. If you really want a freak of nature, Calvin Johnson ran a 4.35 40-yard dash at the NFL Draft Combine, and he’s a monster at 6’5″, 239 pounds.

In basketball, we have 6’11” guys like Kevin Durant or Frank Kaminsky who can run an offense, dribble from the perimeter, and hit outside shots. Back in the 1980s and into the 1990s, most big men were stiffs. Olden Polynice and Bill Cartwright were your typical NBA center. Guys like Patrick Ewing and David Robinson were Hall of Famers because they could actually play athletic defense and run up the floor, though you’d never trust any of them to actually dribble drive from the perimeter.

Magic Johnson was considered revolutionary because he was a big guy who could play the point – at 6’9″, 220 pounds. Meanwhile, Ben Simmons dwarfs Magic at 6’10”, 240 pounds. Athletes are just bigger, faster, and better than they ever have been before.

About Matt Zemek

Matt Zemek is the managing editor of The Student Section, covering college football and basketball with associate editors Terry Johnson and Bart Doan. Mr. Zemek is the editor of Crossover Chronicles, covering the NBA. He is also Bloguin's lead tennis writer, covering the major tournaments. He contributes to other Bloguin sites, such as The AP Party.

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