Understanding US College Sport
The College Atmosphere
As summer begins to transition into autumn here in the United States, routines begin to take shape. The kids dread the anticipation of going back to school, as much as the parents celebrate the return, and surrendering the children to the whims and mercies of the teachers.
As the mercury starts to dip ever so slightly though, and while the landscape begins its conversion of colours, an old friend begins to peek from around the corner, football! American football, in every form, youth leagues, high school, college and professional. The younger group of burgeoning athletes emulate the play-making skills of their heroes.
College sports seems to be the catalyst to our sporting endeavours, and our social lives. Whether it is football or basketball, the younger boys and girls strive to do well to eventually play at the university level, while the graduated professionals look back at their college years with much favour. Athletes and business men and women alike relish the glory days they had in years past. Regardless if it was intramural or at the conference level, roots are established, allegiances strengthened and loyalties morph into fanatic levels.
The question begs itself to be answered, why do college sports affect us Americans in such a crazed manner? The simple answer is ownership, and a sense of affiliation. The type of association you don’t get with professional teams. In Alabama college football rules the roost, while in North Carolina expect to be recruited to support, the Blue Devils from Duke, the Tar Heels of Carolina, or the Wolfpack from NC State in basketball. But of course, why we root for our favourite teams is a long and winding road.
The first aspect of college fandom is contribution. Probably a similar thought that European football fans feel towards their favourite teams. Maybe it’s because we’re too young, or too old to compete. Perhaps we’re physically unable to participate. Donning the colours, and defending your teams honour is the best way we can contribute and share in our team’s successes and failures. Turning the stands into a sea of the schools distinct colour scheme motivates the team to play harder for us we hope.
Who Do You Root For?
With countless Universities across the country, there is a team for almost everyone. In the Dallas Fort Worth Texas market, there are so many schools, or satellite campuses it is almost difficult to decide on a team. UT Arlington, TCU, SMU, UNT, Texas Wesleyan, Tarleton State, and endless junior colleges that field sports teams. Within a 2-3 hour drive, we have Baylor, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas A&M and the list goes on. Then there are the sporting complexes in the Metroplex that host the areas professional teams, as well as tournaments. These events bring in a multitude of college teams, and if your school makes it here from across the country at some point in the near future, why not settle here and support them when they come, easy access for fans.
With these many options, in an average market like this, there are more games to choose from, something for everyone. Overall you develop a sense of community with your fellow fans. You find that you are able to find success at different levels. With over 125 Division I teams, over 160 Division II teams and even more Division III schools across the country, there is bound to be an exciting game, or an upset each week to choose from. A large offering of championship games are available each season. Don’t we all love to see the underdog usurp the big bully?
Then there is the pro sports factor. In the Dallas Fort Worth area, our professional teams have fielded squads to the championship final games in football, baseball, basketball and hockey. But professionals don’t seem to play with as much heart as college players do. Also, what do you do when you live in Boise, Idaho, and there isn’t a local pro team to root for? Well you pull for Boise State, and the distinctive blue ‘Smurf Turf’ field they play on. When Saturday football starts, or ‘March Madness’ basketball begins, there are a plethora of teams within 3-4 hours to jump on the band wagon for and the locals in Boise and fans in similar towns will support them.
College sports, at the competitive level brings out the best in a person, or so we think. The players compete at an extreme level because they strive to win an amateur championship and prove their worth to the world that they gave 110% effort in their endeavour. Or, as it sometime seems, this is the perfect platform for burgeoning young athletes to put their skills on the world stage to prepare for the next step in their lives. Whether it is preparation for the Olympics, professional sports, or carrying the team concept they develop in college to the business world.
College sports are integrated into our daily life. We see it on our food and drink packaging. Schools will decorate the streets and billboards of their towns with propaganda touting the upcoming potential undefeated season, the new coach or, how the latest recruit will bring us the championship this year.
TV or not TV, That is The Question
There is no doubt that if you have basic television you will at a minimum, channel surf through a few games during the weekend. If you have a cable/satellite upgrade you increase your odds with Fox sports, NBC sports, and ESPN to add more and more previews, games and recaps. Of course if you upgrade to the premium packages you can subscribe to the channels that are owned by the athletic conferences, and/or the teams. Channels, like the Longhorn network will fill your living room with 24/7 Texas Longhorn sports. If there is a lull in the season and no game to air, you can relive the glory days from years past and watch the Rose Bowl win again, or another Earl Campbell biography.
Of course this all works to bring in the cash and fund programs that might not otherwise have the opportunity to flourish. We all want to associate ourselves with a successful school. The type that is able to succeed on the field and in the classroom. By associating ourselves with our school, we are able to apply a portion of prestige to ourselves that otherwise might not be put on us if we didn’t support the home team.
I’m With the Band
The bands, some people tell us, “You go for the game, but you stay for the band.” Whether you are watching the antics, and early arrival of the Stanford band, or enjoying the precision of the half time show of the Prairie View, Grambling game, the band brings us honour, and unites the fans and the teams regardless of a narrow win, or a dastardly defeat. The ability to commiserate with our friends and strangers in these dark moments helps everyone to get past the game.
Finally, there are the mascots. What other sporting event endorses bringing livestock onto the field? Mike the Tiger at LSU, Bevo the Longhorn cow at Texas and, Aurora the Air Force Falcon are just a sample of the trained mascots that teams bring on to the field to motivate them to victory. When I first visited the LSU campus in Baton Rouge, my trip wasn’t complete until I waited the crowd out and could walk up to Mike the Tigers habitat for a visit.
We fans become the Tar heels of North Carolina, we flow like the Crimson Tide of Alabama, and encompass the tenacity of the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame. We enjoy the cajoling at the tailgate parties before the game, defend the teams honour during the game, and sometimes lick our wounds when we lose to our rival. College football, basketball and the other sports bring us together to build a community, and we hope to incorporate that heritage on to our children.