By LZ Granderson
Page 2

The first time I ever visited the fine city of Toronto, it was in the middle of winter. As a Christmas present, I surprised my then-wife with tickets to see "The Phantom of the Opera" at Pantages Theater. It seemed like a good idea at the time – romantic train ride, beautiful hotel, award-winning show. It didn't occur to me that Toronto was freezing that time of year. That is, until we stepped out of the cab and were greeted with the kind of arctic blast that makes PETA members reach for fur.

No wonder the "vacation package" was so cheap.

Anyway, thanks to that wonderful experience, I tried to stay out of Canada between the months of November and March – global warming and all.

Western Michigan
Scott A. Miller/US Presswire
Will Western Michigan's first bowl appearance since 1988 make its alumni beam with pride?

But I am reconsidering my stance because my alma mater, Western Michigan University, is playing in The International Bowl, its first postseason game since 1988. And it's being televised live – from Toronto. Which means I get to wear my alumni gear in a city outside of Michigan and not be in fear of hearing the one question that slights my entire college experience: "Now, where is that?"

For those of you who attended a sweatshirt school – a university with apparel sold outside of its region – you have no idea what I'm talking about. For those of us forced to "adopt" a college so we can have a reason to hate the BCS, having your real school on national television during bowl season is like being hugged by Oprah.

The catch is that you have to play in bowl games named after restaurants or in Canada in the dead of winter. It's as if glancing away when telling someone where you earned your degree wasn't bad enough. No, when you finally get an opportunity to hold your head up high, via a college bowl game, the proverbial Man tries to stick it to you one more time before kickoff.

But, if you ever got the "Now, where is that?" question in a room full of sweatshirt grads – as I have – you wouldn't care if the game was called "The Psycho Bowl" and was played in John Mark Karr's backyard, just as long as it was nationally televised during bowl season.

It's all yet another sad illustration of my decaying infrastructure at the corner of sports and education. Western Michigan University prepared me well, but I still shrink a bit when I run into a Notre Dame grad in my field. Not because I think Notre Dame's journalism program is better than Western's. In fact, I couldn't tell you one thing about Notre Dame's academics. However, I do know that the Fighting Irish football team is always on TV, and because of that, a Notre Dame degree somehow seems better than mine.

The irony, of course, is that the students on TV are generally dismissed as "dumb jocks." I would find this all really funny if I also didn't find it all really true. But what can one expect from a society where $51 million can be shelled out just to talk to a pitcher while 20 percent of new public school teachers quit because they can't live on a teacher's salary? Apparently a mind is a terrible thing to waste, but it's not as bad as trashing a 95 mph fastball.

But we're all in this erosion together. Ask yourself, which would you rather have? A 2.75 GPA and a Division I-A football scholarship or a 4.0 with no athletic ability to speak of? I'm smart enough to say the "right" answer, dumb enough to not actually believe it and just blind enough to the effects of the disconnect between the two to help maintain the status quo. This explains why coaches are more likely to lose their jobs for things like not beating Michigan than they are for not graduating their players. This explains why student-athletes can steal, cheat, rack up DUIs, even beat their girlfriends and still be a welcomed part of the "academic community." After all, universities are supposed to be learning institutions, right? At least that's what is says on the sweatshirt.

But I digress.

This column isn't supposed to be about how our unhealthy obsession with sports has infected the way we view education. It's about how proud I am that Western Michigan is playing football in January.

Or is it about me valuing my bachelor's degree more because Western is playing football in January?

Or maybe it's a confession that I'm considering going to Toronto in the dead of winter because I'm having trouble separating the two.

LZ Granderson is a senior writer for ESPN the Magazine and host of the ESPN360 talk show "Game Night." He is currently working on his first book. LZ can be reached at l_granderson@yahoo.com.




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UNSETTLING VALIDATION