Intramurals were most likely designed as a platform for camaraderie, fair play, and fellowship. They have devolved, however, into a Darwinian struggle for supremacy and an preview of the aging process. The leagues are full of frustrated athletes, people who weren't quite good enough to play college hoops or football or whatever the sport (ultimate frisbee?), but were the Big Dogs or Kinda-Big Dogs, or Thought They Were Big Dogs at the high school level.
I was no different when I entered the university recreation center with a few buddies to sign up for our basketball intramural league as freshmen. We were all decent ballers at our schools, still in pretty good shape from playing a lot of ball over the summer before college, and eager to be Alpha Males in the dorms and on the courts at once.
On one hand, these early games were key in building dorm solidarity, as there is nothing like an intense basketball pickup game to take acquaintances to at least cohorts, if not friends. With the uneasy niceness of those first days of college being like a perpetually awkward first date, there was nothing like a game of hoops to push you through the awkwardness to the unique camaraderie of dorm life.
I remember bonding with a soon-to-be-lifelong friends over our shared distaste for one dorm mate who consistently turned the ball over yet always wanted to be the one with the ball in his hands, demanding it in a nasally voice after anyone else got a rebound on defense.
Intramurals also house some behavior that is close to the worst of humankind. Players cheat with impunity, exaggerating scores or simply propping up wrong scores uttered by willing or unwilling liars. The ball is always off the other team, and fouls that are obvious to the other nine players on the court are always denied with the fervor of a Baptist preacher.
Guys "cherry-pick," they only hustle back on defense when they made the turnover, they throw unnecessary elbows, they chuck the ball up any time they have (or don't have) the slightest opening. When it comes down to the end of the game, though, a lot of them want nothing less than to have the ball in their hands, and the ball all of a sudden moves more at the end than it has all game.
The brave, the cowards, the selfish, the overly unselfish (the one who will not, under any consition, shoot an open shot) the crooked, the lazy--they all see their virtues and peccadilloes exposed on a grand scale.
Intramurals are the beginning of the downward spiral, where the zenith is the quality of play during the high school season, in which a player is in impeccable condition, and feels he can play for seven quarters. Rare occasions are those in which he pulls a jersey to avoid having to jump or box for a rebound, those in which he lets a guy drive past him so he can attempt the lazy man's steal from behind.
The low point of one's basketball career is demonstrated by "The Proffs," an intramural team made up of seven 45+ professors. Their strategy consisted of hard fouls on any layups for the opposing teams, pulled jerseys whenever possible, two-handed, two-footed push shots, and shouts of "Send it!" by shuffling old men who never crossed halfcourt on defense and wanted passes that would give them undefensed layups on the other side.
As my 3oth birtday approaches, just having signed up for my first adult recreation league in three years, I hope that I am much closer to the zenith than I am to The Proffs...