March madness or March sadness?

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We knew this was coming, but hearing the news still stings and serves as an undesirable reminder of the program’s uncertain future. As March Madness continues, it is apparent that bracket busts are not the only heartaches fans will be experiencing in the coming weeks. The reason for this is that many of the superstars who helped their teams reach the playoffs will never again play with their schools’ names across their chests.

In a blink of an eye, these men go from being just another body in a 500-person lecture hall to being one of 15 on a professional roster. It happens all the time that players are one-and-done in college, with no rules prohibiting them from leaving. Just as quickly as a high school phenom commits to a university, he abstains from his four-year term and heads for the NBA. Recent examples include D’Angelo Russell with Ohio State, Ben Simmons with LSU, Brandon Ingram with Duke and Jaylen Brown with Cal, with the list going on and on.

Players leave because a multimillion dollar salary is knocking at their door, and this year’s batch of big shots are no exception to the rule. In a recent CBS Sports Mock Draft, 19 of the NBA’s top-75 prospects are freshmen and 21 are sophomores. It is projected that nearly half the draft class will consist of players who have spent no more than two years at the collegiate level.

This is the way the system works and always will, and it comes down to the fact that sports are a business.

In a sense, wanting a young star to stay the full four years at a university is selfish. The NBA is not alone in partaking in big business, and universities reap monetary gain from these players as well. The better the team, the more money the school makes. The big men on campus draw media coverage, attract recruits, drive merchandise sales and boost game attendance and ticket sales.

But if you stray away from the business end of college sports, you will find a love unlike any other on the planet: the love between a school and its sports teams.

Nothing comes close to a freshman attending their first football or basketball game at their new school. The immense amount of pride that student bodies exert when they watch their beloved teams go to battle is just one of the things that make the college experience. Emotional ties are made to players, and fans devote themselves to their team. Those genuine emotional ties are what make the departing of young players so difficult.

An exceptional player not only has the power to reinvigorate a university but can also bring hope to a potentially demoralized city. On the contrary, the news of a player heading to the NBA can also dismantle all the progress a team has made.

Ultimately, the loss of a young star is simply a confirmation that his lifelong dream has come true. And when fans enter their collegiate arenas next season, bearing NBA jerseys adorned with the last name of their go-to guy, they will be a reminder of all he gave to the school and the legacy he made for himself.

Christie Aguilar covers track and field. Contact her at [email protected].