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Amateurs unite for the love of the game itself

The Punch

Nov 27,2009
The word “amateur” in sports refers to athletes who do not play for money.

Collegiate level athletes fall under this category but the word is often used in a negative connotation.

For example, you might holler at a friend after drubbing him in a lopsided win in fantasy football: “You’re an amateur!”

However, the word derives from the Latin word amator which means lover. I don’t know if many will agree with me on this point but this is precisely the reason why amateur sports are fun to watch.

When organized right, amateur sports, unadulterated by unnecessary evils and untainted by lucrative contracts, is a thing of beauty. Throw in a little heated rivalry and school pride into the mix and you can’t go wrong.

In my opinion, one of the best amateur sports is university basketball. The NCAA March Madness is one of the most exciting sporting events in the U.S. University basketball in Korea was once a popular sport until the early 1990s, with spectators filling the stands to the rafters, but attendance numbers have dwindled since.

To make matters worst, the concept of the student athlete was sorely lacking as students regularly missed classes because they were participating in tournaments and practices throughout the season.

Last year the 11 teams in Division 1 played five tournaments last season. In an effort to right its past shortcomings, the University Basketball Association and the deans of the universities in the top division agreed on a new format earlier this month. The new structure lets teams play in a league format for home and away series instead of participating only in national tournaments.

At this point, one national tourney is in the books and according to Choi Jung-woo, the secretary general of the University Basketball Association, another is in the works.

In addition, in an effort to keep students in class, the new league rule would prohibit games and practices between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. and limit the number of games to one per day. Student athletes who do not meet minimum academic requirements will be prohibited from playing in games.

The new initiatives being taken by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism and the sports’ governing body are considered the norm in many places around the world and are long overdue, but it’s a refreshing change nonetheless.

It should also help to draw some of the fans back to the stands of basketball games as the student body and faculty can attend afternoon or early evening games on home turf and can also lead to an increase in general turnouts. We all know how a good atmosphere at a game can add to the overall excitement of a sporting event.

The new home and away system is currently being tested with a group of exhibition games that kicked off between Korea University who defeated Kyung Hee University 97 to 89 on Nov. 19 at 3 p.m. A total of 11 games between 11 teams will be played through Dec. 4. The new league system will be used starting next season.

“The latest change was to prevent students in basketball programs from missing lectures. The cost of travelling on the road for tournaments was also of burden to most schools,” Choi said.

The latest changes are also significant in the overall picture of development of the sport at the grassroots levels. The success of the new format at the collegiate level can trickle down to the high school and middle school levels in the future.

It’s a positive step towards correcting an old and faulty system that wasn’t well suited for university basketball.

by Jason Kim[jason@joongang.co.kr]



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