Starting for the Spartans, a 6’4” forward from Cody, WY: Jacob Hannon!
[bball]This is a phrase that Spartan fans might not have the opportunity to hear before Hannon’s graduation in May. Hannon joined the MSU men’s basketball team during his junior year as a walk-on player – he is not receiving an athletic scholarship to play sports. However, Hannon, a human biology major, is considered to be a scholarship student at MSU: in academics, not athletics. Like many other collegiate athletes, he plans to pursue a career outside of the sport that has consumed so much of his college experience. When Hannon is not on the basketball court, he is hitting the books and working toward a future career in optometry.
A massive amount of pressure is put on college athletes in today’s sports world; perhaps the most pressure is placed on an athlete’s ability to live up to expectation. With high expectations comes the influence of media attention as well. College athletes are hailed for their talent, but as soon as a slump hits, the negative attention begins. Athletes are expected to hold it together on the field and in the classroom, and this attention is magnified when an athlete has professional potential. But what about those players who do not receive constant media attention? What about those players who aren’t bombarded by reporters asking when they are entering the pros or what shoe company they plan to endorse? According to Hannon, the lack of media attention has never bothered him because his mind has been made up since the start of college he was not going to pursue a professional basketball career.
“I thought I was going to play basketball after college until I got an academic scholarship offer from Michigan State,” Hannon said. “When that happened, I decided to forego my thoughts of playing basketball after college, and making the team at MSU became more of a personal goal to me.”
[running]According to the National Collegiate Athletic Association, or NCAA, there are more than 380,000 college student-athletes at more than 1,000 member colleges and universities around the U.S. The slogan from the NCAA commercials, about “going pro in something other than sports,” certainly rings true, because it would be almost impossible for this number of athletes to enter the pros every year. College athletics can often be used as a tool to develop skills that can be utilized in career fields outside of sports. While some athletes are focused on showing off their skills on the court or field, others are more concerned with showing off their skills in the classroom: Hannon is on schedule to graduate from MSU with honors. However, Hannon is not the only Spartan senior athlete who is hanging up the shoes and moving on to a career path outside of sports.
The oval track and the hilly terrain are both very familiar to Sarah McCormack, a senior runner for the track and cross country teams at MSU. She completed her biochemistry degree last spring and hopes to complete her zoology major by December 2007. McCormack has intentions to travel outside the country after college graduation, and she hopes to pursue a master’s degree and Ph.D. Despite these plans, McCormack made a personal vow to never forget the training and conditioning she learned from collegiate running. “Regardless on what I do for a career after college, I want to keep running for the rest of my life,” McCormack said. “I have learned a lot about running from being on the team, so I know what it takes if I want to stay in shape down the road.”
Partaking in a broader sport, like track or cross country, allows for more opportunities after college than a focused sport, like basketball. Previous collegiate or even high school level runners will often participate in city marathons and other running events. McCormack found a new love for running after being a member of the teams at MSU, which was a surprise to her. “I always knew I’d keep running, but I kind of shocked myself by trying out for the team at MSU in the first place,” McCormack said. “Being a part of the track and cross country teams taught me a lot and will help with whatever I do in life as far as a career path goes.”
It is obvious college athletics takes an extreme amount of dedication. Many students struggle with keeping up their grades in the classroom, and adding cross-country travel for sporting events to that task creates a difficult mix for student-athletes. Any student who chooses to take on that job must really love their sport, so how are athletes able to give it up to pursue a career unrelated to sports?
“I’m sure I will continue to play basketball for fun after I’m done playing in college,” Hannon said. “I have played with guys who are in the NBA now, and those are the select few who are good enough and deserve the attention at the next level.”
[athletic]Former MSU women’s basketball coach Karen Langeland had the opportunity to coach a player who was good enough to play on that next level. Kristen Rasmussen was a women’s basketball player for MSU from 1996-2000 before she was drafted into the WNBA; she is currently playing for the Connecticut Sun. According to Langeland, her former star did receive a good amount of media attention but it did not seem to affect the rest of the team. Local media was responsible for the majority of the attention because Rasmussen attended Okemos High School before coming to MSU.
“It was hard to tell if Kristen received the majority of her media attention because she was really good or because she was just a local athlete,” Langeland said. “The team didn’t seem to have any problems with the attention Kristen received because they knew she was a good player.”
This additional attention rests on the few athletes who go on to the professional level and often overlooks the accomplishments of student-athletes who will not continue in the big leagues. Victoria Iakounia is a microbiology and molecular genetics senior and member of the gymnastics team. Iakounia is in the process of applying to medical schools and hopes to pursue a medical degree. Unlike Hannon and McCormack, Iakounia does not have any teammates who plan to continue playing their sport at the professional level. Just being able to compete at the collegiate level was a goal of Iakounia\’s from a young age. “In high school, I always trained hard with the goal of competing in college,” Iakounia said. “Collegiate athletics is a strong commitment and a lot of work, but a very rewarding experience.”
Iakounia speaks the same words so many collegiate athletes will admit while playing sports: it was a very “rewarding experience.” The majority of college athletes do not play sports in order to show off skills to professional scouts in hopes of being selected by a professional team. Like Iakounia, the majority of collegiate athletes play their sport for the experience: the experience of meeting new people, competing against other universities and, just like the student body, learning lessons for when they enter the real world.
Although numerous MSU athletes will not be playing their respected sport after this year, many admit they would not trade the experience of college athletics for anything. “I chose Michigan State because I wanted to experience new things,” said Hannon. Over the course of his time with the team, it can certainly be said Hannon has experienced his fair share of incredible athletic moments. He has been a member of an NCAA Tournament qualifying team, played with current and future NBA players and, just last month, beaten No. 1 ranked Wisconsin at the Breslin Center and witnessed the crowd storm the court.
So this year, athletes like Hannon, McCormack and Iakonia will continue to work hard in their respected sports and at some time in the next three months, each of their college chapters will come to an end. They will be sporting their green and white uniforms and competing for MSU for the last time. Whether it is taking a final shot, landing a final routine or crossing the finish line for the last time, the collegiate careers of these athletes will come to an end. But the end of their athletic careers will be the beginning of something much bigger.
Starting for the Spartans, a 6’4” forward from Cody, WY: Jacob Hannon!