Why are college sports so popular in the USA?

Paige Lyman
Paige Lyman

7 October 2020 • 4 min read

When it comes to the college or university experience in the USA, there are plenty of things that US institutes have in common at the international level. From classes and programs offered to various student facilities littered across campus, universities have staple elements that are shared throughout the world. One thing that does set US colleges apart, however, are the unique college sports teams that have become a rather large part of the US college experience.

College sports have a long history, dating back to the 1840s when Yale University formed its first boat club. Now, college sports range from American football, swimming, volleyball, to basketball. They offer student athletes scholarships, bring a unique aspect to student life on campus, and they can generally serve as a rewarding experience for both athletes and viewers alike.

While there are economic and cultural criticisms tied to the college sports system, we’ll be taking a more general look at college sports here. We’ll discuss what they are and why college sports are so uniquely part of the US college experience.

History and pride

History has a way of making most things stand out. When it comes to college sports, this is no different. With over 170 years behind college sports, there is a host of traditions that have built up since that first boat club at Yale University was started.

Alongside tradition is the sense of campus pride! For any sports fan, there is often a sense of pride that starts to build between the fan and sports team. This can be the same experience for college students in the USA. They might feel more connected to their school by attending sporting events and generally supporting the teams.

College sports have a longer history than many of the professional sports that can be found in the US as well, like the National Football League and the National Hockey League. With that longer history comes a sense of pride that many students can grasp onto when it comes to college sports.

Game day experiences

One of the traditions that has built up around university sports, that will vary campus to campus, is that of the game day experience. A game day experience, much like attending a sports event elsewhere, consists of lots of excitement from fans. 

One large part of many university game day experiences is tailgating. Tailgate parties often happen before and after the game. They are a really informal way for fans and attendees of the sporting event to hang out, party some, and enjoy food. Tailgate parties usually happen in the parking lot of wherever the sporting event is happening.

Some universities might have specific policies related to tailgating, like Louisiana State University does. LSU fans sometimes start tailgating 24 hours before certain games, so the university highly encourages students to tailgate responsibly.

Enjoyable to watch

When wondering why college sports are so popular in the US, consider why you or people you know might enjoy the sports that are played and enjoyed in your country! Sports, as a general activity, provide entertainment, something to root for, and oftentimes a sense of community.

Many students, both the athletes themselves and the general student body, often enjoy the competitive nature that can inherently be found in sports. There’s usually rivalries between different sports teams and the different colleges and universities they come from. These rivalries can feed the natural competition that’s already found in sports, making it easy for students across campus to find common ground among themselves as well.

Apart from community and something to compete for, sports are just fun to watch. They serve as a form of entertainment and can often allow students a brief break from the stresses of classes, finals, and other school-related activities.

College sports are certainly something unique to the US. There’s often a wide variety of team sports available on any given campus, from the most well-known sports like American football and basketball to others like bowling and surfing. This variety offers students plenty of sports to choose from to watch or participate in if they like.

While such a huge emphasis on sports might be new to international students attending US universities, they can certainly offer a way to get to know the university community a little better and offer fun events to look forward to throughout the year.

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Paige Lyman
Written By
Paige Lyman

Paige Lyman is a freelance writer and journalist who writes in the pop-culture space.


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