Part of Our Fabric: How America's College Sports Are Unlike Any Other Country
The average American sports fan turns the television on to ESPN on a Saturday morning in November. No, they won't see MLB fantasy predictions, recaps of the previous night's NBA & NHL games or even what's happening in the world of soccer, the world's most popular sport. Instead, they'll see thousands of people lined up, tailgating, holding signs or just taking in the atmosphere of College Gameday, a three hour talkshow dedicated solely to American college football in all its grandeur. Fast forward four months, and that same fan will likely be watching The Selection Show, a one hour stress fest accompanied with hours of pre-show content that determines which teams will play in March Madness, the 68-team college basketball tournament that attracts far over half a million spectators yearly (the record is 799,000 while the average is well over 600,000).
Simply put, American college sports is incomparable. But why? In this article, Let's Talk Sports will dive deep into college sports across the globe and how America's college sports culture is so strong compared to other countries.
In the United States, the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) regulates over a thousand universities in over 20 different sports. That is by far the biggest web of college sports in the world. To put that in comparison, BUCS (British Universities and College Sport), the UK equivalent of the NCAA, only partners with 165 universities.
However, BUCS does represent a wider range of sports with 52 sports under its jurisdiction including less traditional sports such as pool, jiu jitsu and futsal. It even has a big overall cup in addition to single-sport championships in which team success in all sports is measured for the honor of being the BUCS champion. Unfortunately for athletes there, the atmosphere doesn't compare to the United States and games are far less attended.
"We get about 100-200 fans at each of our home games," Guillaume Preston, a soccer player at the University of Derby, said.
This can largely be attributed to the types of athletes that play in each league. While college athletes in the United States are often future professionals that are extremely competitive, college athletes in the UK just share a love for the sport and want to keep playing, although they are still exceptional athletes.
"College sports in the UK are very competitive, although the difference is that the students playing aren't elite athletes," Preston said. "They are mostly just students of the university who still want to play sports."
Interestingly enough, the only other country with a major college sports league is Canada, which has a league dubbed "U Sports". U Sports has 56 partner universities and over 12,000 athletes. Since it is relatively new, U Sports still has a lot of time to expand and is actually motivated by the US's success to expand to more schools and sports.
Although it started off small, the fanbase of many U Sport teams has increased, and many sports like American football and basketball have seen increased popularity over the last few decades. This has actually contributed to more Canadiens playing in the NBA and NFL along with the NCAA.
As mentioned no other countries have a large college sports program. However, a few others have small organizations for college athletics. The Philippines have the UAAP and NCAAP, both of which are basketball leagues. New Zealand has University and Tertiary Sport New Zealand, which acts as its NCAA. Lastly, South Africa has University Sports South Africa, another similar organization.
In short, the reason why United States has such a dominant college sports culture in comparison to other countries is simply because we have the largest system with the most elite athletes. With other countries' most popular sports such as soccer and rugby allow for kids to hit the biggest stage at the age of 18, meaning they won't play in college, most of the United States' biggest sports require players to wait at least one year after graduating high school. This means that many elite athletes in the US must go to college for a year or more, bolstering the talent in the leagues. Although these international leagues might not be as popular or competitive, they still provide young adults across the world with a chance to play the sports they love for a little bit longer.