November 30, 2015

How Senior Night Ruined Collegiate Sports

*The below post is evidence of my transition into "back in the day" disconnect with current times*

Believe it or not, there was a time when Senior Night was non existent.  It was just an acknowledgment by the head coach in the pre-game talk that this was the last home match for the Seniors and we want to make sure they leave their home court with a win.  Maybe, just maybe, the announcer acknowledged the last home match for Seniors and the result was a big round of applause.

Before I explain just how Senior Night has ruined collegiate sports, let me say that I absolutely support senior night for high school players.  High school volleyball (and all high school sports) is a challenging beast.  This is a rough time period because the athletic reality of a player comes into fruition.  There can be talented 8th graders who never get better (and worse by comparison to their team mates), late bloomers, kids who work their socks off just to make the roster and have great attitudes, players who are spoiled selfish brats who could be good players if they just changed their attitude and let's not forget, there are plenty of high school coaches who have plenty of room for improvement (both technically and personality wise).

The high school senior night is often the pinnacle of a high school athlete's career.  They are not going to play college volleyball, they are not going to win state, there is no all conference recognition and their photo was never printed in the local newspaper.  This is the opportunity for the player and her family to stand in front of the school and hear the applause of friends and fans.  This is an affirmation of the years of hard work, the floor burns and high fives and to walk away with a keepsake photo to show their children one day.

No where else has the 'everyone gets a trophy' mentality reached rarefied air than of collegiate athletic's Senior Night.

In collegiate sports, there is much concern over the entitlement attitude of athletes (and parents) and the Senior Night festivities are part of this problem.  The basic reason I don't support this Carnival of Senior Night is that college athletes are receiving compensation to participate in sports at their school.  Some athletes receive a full athletic scholarship, others are on a package of scholarships which is significant; even if an athlete receives no financial support, there are still the great benefits of being an athlete such as academic support, clothes/equipment, access to athlete only conditioning and medical facilities, travel, etc.

Collegiate athletics is a business transaction between players and schools.  That is the elephant in the room, the reality which only seems to be recognized when a player is cut or a coach is fired.

I distinctly remember my first thought of, "This is not good" with regards to Senior night.  I was at a DI school, and the men's basketball program had left the 'awards' presented to their Seniors in the volleyball office because we were closer to the playing floor (I am unsure how they gained access the office, but mens' hoops is usually the king has no clothes on any collegiate campus).  The 'award' was beyond a poster size glass framed playing uniform, and another equally big glass framed action photo with brass engraved career statistics - When I say big, I mean embarrassingly large.  And the best part, these demonstrations of every senior gets a trophy sat in the volleyball offices for two weeks, until my assistant called the basketball secretary (yes, we only had access to the secretary - and then she told my assistant to bring them upstairs to her; we did not act as delivery service) and then they sat in our offices another two weeks!

These over the top displays of senior night, led the NCAA to set limits on how much a school could spend on such senior awards.  The big school programs then started having their awards 'donated' so they could still give Zeppelin (the blimp, not the band) sized gifts.  Every year, programs try to make Senior night bigger/better than other programs in the league or even on their own campus!

Each of my readers can rightfully think that I have turned into grumpy old man and there is nothing wrong with having a celebration of the seniors, that it is just a few minutes before the last match, that the players enjoy it, etc.  And each of my readers may be absolutely right, but you may be absolutely wrong.

I say absolutely wrong, because I have witnessed and received feedback from other college coaches, how this Senior Night becomes more important than the team. How players and parents get upset if the number of words spoken about them by the announcer is not long enough or as long as the other seniors.  How the award they received was not as good as the award given to last year's seniors or what their friend got at State University.  They were mad because they were not able to walk across the floor to the entrance music they wanted or they were not allowed to walk with their boyfriend.  

Whenever the focus is diverted to the individual versus the team, not good things usually happen.  The team is what matters and individual recognition should be a result of excelling within the team success.  It used to drive me nuts as a coach, to have Seniors expecting/demanding the big recognition of a Senior night, when the team record during  their Senior year was poor and they did not perform as a player or leader.  

It is hypocritical of coaches/fans/media to decry the spoiled/entitled attitude of today's athletes, yet smile and clap during the presentation of flowers, balloons, framed jerseys, photos, incense and quinoa to players.  The athlete has already been 'thanked' by the program every day for the last 4 years, and will continue to be 'thanked' by the college for the remainder of their life by having a degree and a resume that reflects collegiate athletics.

Yes, I know that I am making a mountain out of a small ball.  I understand that 10 minutes at the end of the season is just 10 minutes.  I understand that there is nothing wrong with having a bit of celebration for athletes playing their last home match.  Yet, there is acknowledgment and there is too much, and today's Senior Nights have become too much. 

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