More than Just a Game

Barry O’Leary looks at the enormity of College Sports in America.

If you were taking a well-earned lazy day off from college and happened to be flicking through TV channels at home, you might just stumble upon highlights of the weekends College Football or Basketball games in America. While many would cast a doubtful eye as to why channels such as ESPN even give up a slot to these games, it should be noted that these high profiled encounters generate audiences unrivalled across some of the world’s biggest third level institutions.

Getting involved in college sport in America is a huge phenomenon amongst students. The governing body of college sports in America and Canada, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), raked in $871.6m in 2012, with a considerable amount coming from the Turner/CBS Sports rights agreement. The Texas Longhorns Athletic Programme headed the list with $163m generated in revenue, which is comfortably bigger than many English Premier League clubs managed to make despite playing to a worldwide audience every week.  In this regard, the college sport industry can easily be seen as one of the most profitable businesses across the Atlantic Ocean. However, the NCAA prides itself on being a non-profit association with regards to how it uses money and not on how much revenue is generated. All but 4% of NCAA revenue is believed to be either returned directly to member conferences and institutions or used to support championships and programs that benefit student-athletes.

Take College football for example; it might seem strange to people as to why it’s so popular. Less than 3% of college players make the cut as professional NFL players after they complete their education, none of the college stars are paid and all the athletes have full-time college courses to contend with, so sport cannot be their sole focus.  Yet, the exhilaration and passion amongst the players fuses together, ensuring that stadiums in colleges such as those in Michigan, Alabama and Ohio State are packed to the rafters for every home game.

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The Texas Longhorns Athletic Programme headed the list with $163m generated in revenue, which is comfortably bigger than many English Premier League clubs managed to make despite playing to a worldwide audience every week.

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Americans are notorious for being very boisterous and outspoken in support of their respective teams. The over the top antics and gestures from American fans can be quite condescending, yet humorous even at the worst of times. This unadulterated pride is magnified when it’s your college against a neighbouring state. The performance and result of the big game can dictate the mood of supporters in everyday life for long periods after the game.

Perhaps, the logical reason for these capacity crowds stems down to culture and one’s surroundings.  All six stadiums with over 100,000 seats are in relatively rural states in America with the country’s largest stadium belonging to  University of Michigan. The people of the nearby towns and cities are brought together by college sport and follow their respective teams through the season long campaign. The University of Alabama is a typical example. The town of Tuscaloosa has a population of just over 90,000 people, slightly less than what their stadium hold. Nonetheless, some ticket prices for a big game with Texas A&M traded for over $750. This fan obsession and willingness to pay over the odds for tickets is not an unusual occurrence. A fan of the Clemson Tigers in North Carolina recently boasted to a reporter that he and his friends had camped out for nine days, keeping a rotation policy in order to purchase the best tickets for their game with Georgia. While the tickets could have been bought online the commitment and dedication of these supporters goes to show the extreme lengths and conditions  supporters will go to in order to ensure that they can be part of all the action.

In Ireland, there tends to be a different approach taken to college sports. A number of students participate or follow their college teams, but don’t go all out as our counterparts do in the USA. It is fair to say that the fortunes of UCC’s GAA and Rugby teams in particular garner interest. However, the likelihood of ever reaching the same level of support as seen in America is a very distant proposition indeed.

So, why does it seem like there’s a lack of enthusiasm around Leeside when it comes to college sports? It has been suggested that many students are not encouraged enough to participate in college sport in UCC, some feel their qualities are inadequate, a few lack interest and others are simply not aware of what the university has to offer. While the Irish don’t live up to the die hard nature of American college football fans and their belief that their team is the best in the world but for many UCC students, the subtle surprise of stumbling across a game of rugby or soccer down the Mardyke, or the game of hurling you pass on the way to the gym is always worth a watch. There is something in UCC for everyone; it’s just a matter of finding out what it is.