What image do you get in your head when I use the phrase “US College Sports”?
I get grand images of packed 70,000+ seater stadiums across the country, College Football, marching bands, the dashing 20 year old Quarterback staging the late comeback, roaring crowds, mass hype and hysteria and television rights that run into the billions of dollars…
Now what if I said “UK university sport”?
Heavy-drinking, badly-behaved rugby teams, grumpy paramedics on the sidelines, mud and a crowd consisting of the captain’s girlfriend and one man and his dog. I’ll even throw rain in there too, just for good measure and that authentic sporting experience.
Doesn’t sound anywhere near as glamorous or exciting, does it?
University sport in this country is predominantly controlled by the British Universities and Colleges Sport (BUCS) system, which covers some 51 different sports across the country. BUCS was formed in 2008 after the merger of two sporting organisations (University College Sports and British University Sports Association) and now the vast majority of universities and institutions (nearly 170) are registered to play in BUCS, though which competitions they choose to enter into is up to the sports within the University.
Sports achieve BUCS status in the UK through years of sustained growth and popularity – often a prospective sport will submit an application for inclusion to the system through their governing body. The most recent addition was prior to the 2012-2013 season, when American Football was added to the BUCS leagues after gaining the status as the fastest-growing sport in the UK.
Meanwhile in America, all major college sport is governed by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). Whilst the NCAA governs fewer sports, it boasts extraordinary participation – more than 450,000 students took part in NCAA-sanctioned activities. Not bad given that nearly 15 million students attend college in America.
Every major US television network has a piece of the action – when it comes to college football for instance, CBS, Fox Sports, NBC and ABC all have extensive rights to cover games across the USA, ranging from football to soccer, baseball, softball and athletics.
All of this makes college sports some of the most popular forms of televised sport in the world.
Somehow I get the impression that the UK is lagging behind. I mean, you’d think after a 2012 of blazing glory, university sport would have exploded onto the scene… Instead, I don’t see much more than last year.
OK, so we have the system in place and many willing participants… but how about getting more coverage of our sports? OK, so we don’t have huge stadiums or vast crowds (even if Birmingham American Football Team got 7,000 people to their season-opener against Nottingham) but still, I think people other than universities should be getting stuck in and covering these events. There is some exceptional talent out there who we would do well to follow more of.
With large university budgets and an ever-growing popularity for university sport, surely it would make sense to raise the profile of British university even further? Have more and more sports recorded, highlight reels made and even matches broadcast live. You only need to look at the success of Gridiron TV, the private company providing internet streams for American Football games in this country to see the potential market.
Bigger crowds would be attracted to games, the stakes would be raised and ultimately more students can be involved – media students filming, journalists down here writing the reports. The Olympic Games were designed to ‘inspire a generation’ and perhaps this is how we get started. With the exception of our famous (or infamous) Varsity rivalries, we don’t see big crowds and a real sense that this is at the front of the minds of our students. Why not try?
It would be a big step and not without planning. But why not think big?