Playing for an NCAA sport
With the exception of a very select number of athletes on this campus, many students will never be able to get the experience of playing a sport for the NCAA. Only a few of these athletes are given the opportunity to show their talents throughout their college careers and keep their dreams alive of becoming a professional athlete.
So many high school athletes must wonder what their college career would be like if only they had a little more talent. I wanted to get an impression of what it is like to compete athletically at a college level, so I interviewed Matt Bojanowski, a freshman walk-on to the tennis team. Matt gave me, and all other former high school athletes, a sense of what the NCAA experience is really like:
Scott: How do college athletics differ from high school from your perspective?
Matt: Well, obviously, the level of play is much higher and much more competitive in college. We go more places and play more schools. The pressure is much greater, but you learn to deal with it.
Scott: Describe the process of being a walk on. How did you got into the position to walk-on to a Division 1 sports team?
Matt: I play at a local tennis club and my NU coach, Anthony, also teaches there. Last fall, Anthony knew that I was attending NU in the fall and knew that I was interested in joining the team. He approached me and said that we would talk. Over the winter season we played doubles a few times and got to know each other a bit. He then told me that he would love to have me on the team as a walk-on, and I was thrilled.
Scott: Does being a walk-on differ from being a scholarship athlete from the athletics standpoint?
Matt: In terms of playing and practicing, there is no difference. It doesn't matter if you're the best or the worst player on the court, you still have to be 100 percent dedicated, you still give it your all no matter what circumstance; no excuses.
Scott: Sounds like a lot of hard work. Does it ever get overwhelming?
Matt: Not at all. If you love the sport you play, then it doesn't feel like work at all. I've been playing tennis for a long time and I love it.
Scott: Not even from an academic standpoint?
Matt: Well, of course it takes up a lot of time. Sometimes it can get hard to get all your work done, but it's worth it.
Scott: How does being a walk-on differ from being a scholarship athlete from the academic perspective?
Matt: Again, academically, there is really no difference than being on scholarship. Everyone on the team, no matter their level of play, is expected to go to class and work hard at their studies.
Scott: No special privileges?
Matt: Nothing that I've been given. I wish.
Scott: How much practice do you actually have to do?
Matt: In the fall, we play outside five times a week. When the weather gets bad, we go to Sportsplex in Tonawanda and play there three times a week until the end of the semester. In the spring, we play five times a week at Sportsplex throughout the entire semester, then when the weather gets better we go outside.
Scott: What types of rules does the NCAA have that might make your life different from other students?
Matt: One rule in particular does not allow NCAA student athletes to gamble “ this includes everything from March Madness brackets to casinos. Also, the NCAA and universities do periodic drug tests throughout both the fall and spring semester for steroids, weed, crystal meth, etc.
Scott: Really? Crystal meth?
Matt: I guess they've just got to cover all the bases, you know?
Scott: Yeah, true. So you can't even fill out a March Madness bracket?
Matt: Well, we just can't gamble on it. We can fill it out, but only for our own personal satisfaction. I didn't fill one out though, just to be safe, you know?
Scott: Well, thanks, Matt.
Matt: No problem.
Unfortunately, so many of us will never get a chance to compete for the NCAA. The athletes that compete spend a lot of time and effort to make themselves the best possible competitors that they can be. We may never know what it is really like, but the rare few who do are gaining experiences that will stay with them for the rest of their lives. They will always be able to say that they competed with some of the nation's best athletes. At least there are people like Matt to tell us what we're missing.