I am completely sold on the Patriot League.
I have just finished The Last Amateurs by John Feinstein, another book lent to me by one of the P.E. teachers at school. The book is a one-year study of men's basketball in the Patriot League, at the time of publication a seven-team Division I league of academics-first colleges: Army, Navy, Holy Cross, Colgate, Lehigh, Lafayette and Bucknell. Feinstein makes the case that these seven institutions, along with the Ivy League schools and the Air Force Academy are the only Division I colleges that can be said to have true student-athletes. I, for one, am convinced.
As much as I enjoy college sports, I cannot deny that hypocrisy and corruption are rampant. With so much money involved and the athletes not seeing any of it beyond their scholarships, at least not legitimately, problems are inevitable. Add to that the fact that otherwise under-qualified students are admitted to institutions of higher learning to be exploited for their athletic talents with little care as to whether or not they receive anything approaching an education and the whole system seems a joke. But in his book, Feinstein profiles an entire league where the student part of student-athlete is taken very seriously and I found myself rooting for all of them. As a result, the Army-Navy football game and the Patriot League basketball tournament final are both on my must-watch list for next year.
I feel the book was at its best in the beginning, as the league concept and all of the coaches and players are introduced, and at the end as the story wraps up. The middle is certainly well-written but there is a one-game-after-another feel to it and keeping track of everyone is challenging. That said, I found myself growing quite fond of the various characters. My favorite was Holy Cross's Chris Spitler. He was, by his own reckoning, always the last player on the bench. One learns, of course, that his importance to his team is far greater than he lets on. But his sense of humor about his role is highly endearing.
The epilogue ends with the 2000-01 season. A lot has changed since the book was published. American University has become league member #8. Also, all league members now give at least some athletic scholarships - not part of the vision in the beginning. I wonder if the character of the league has changed as a result. I certainly hope not - or at least not much.
Without a doubt, The Last Amateurs is a great read. Particularly if you're looking for glimmers of decency in the sports world, I highly recommend it.