What do Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods and Peyton Manning have in common? All three began their careers as professional athletes at an American university. The prerequisites for this are provided by the American university landscape, in which university sports play a prominent role.
The basketball, football and baseball games played by American colleges and universities are a real spectacle. The demand is so great that many games are televised. International students describe the atmosphere on campus before a sports event as unique. There is an exception everywhere. This is also reflected in many experience reports on studying in the USA.
The USA is not only known for its spectacular sporting events, but also for its extensive range of university sports. Anyone who enjoys doing sports is in good hands at a US college or university. But how is university sports organized in the USA? The following guide provides the most important information about college sports in the United States.
Sports teams at universities in the USA
The fact that there are sometimes several performance levels of a sport at American universities is initially confusing for international students.
In Germany, sport is organized in associations and clubs, in the USA there is no comparable club system in the sporting field. University sports take the place of the clubs. As a result, competitive and recreational sports are located at American universities.
Varsity Intercollegiate Teams
Varsity Teams are the colleges and universities’ selection teams. They compete against each other in different sports – from basketball and baseball to ice hockey and fencing to rowing and water polo. The teams represent their university in national competitions. The sporting level of the games is correspondingly high. Since teams from different universities meet here, there is also talk of intercollegiate sports.
The Varsity Sports is in several divisions (Divisions organized). These are subordinate to the umbrella organizations NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) and NAIA (National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics). The following divisions can be distinguished within the NCAA:
- NCAA Division I: Division I is considered the most prestigious division and receives the greatest media attention. Most of the big universities belong to it. These must offer at least seven (six) sports for men and seven (eight) for women. Compared to the other divisions, the universities in Division I have the largest budget and offer the largest contingent of sports scholarships. With the help of the scholarships, the universities specifically recruit athletes for their selection teams.
- NCAA Division II: The universities and colleges of Division II and their sports facilities are usually smaller than in Division I and the available budget is lower. The number of sports scholarships to be awarded is correspondingly smaller. Division II colleges must offer a minimum of five (four) sports for men and five (six) for women.
- NCAA Division III: With around 450 universities and 180,000 student athletes, Division III is numerically the largest division. Here, mostly small universities and colleges compete against each other, the sports offer must include at least five sports for men and women. Division III students are not allowed to receive sports scholarships for their participation in the university teams and competitions.
In addition to the three divisions of the NCAA, there is the NAIA. It is made up of smaller four-year colleges that have a less extensive range of sports. However, the performance of the teams is comparable to the sports teams of Division II.
Since membership in a division does not depend on the performance of a team, general statements about the performance of individual teams are difficult. The best teams in Division II can have a higher level of performance than the worst teams in Division I. Nevertheless, Division I is on average considered to be the division with the highest athletic level.
Recreational sports at universities in the USA
College sport in the USA has a strong identity-forming effect in everyday student life and contributes to the students’ feeling of unity. Not only attending sporting events, but also participating in a sport club or a sport group have a positive effect on the community.
Anyone who would like to be physically active on campus has a wealth of options. In addition to popular sports such as basketball, football and swimming, the colleges and universities also attract visitors with unusual sports such as bouldering, sailing and horse riding. Local and international students are equally welcome here.
In addition, there are sports facilities such as fitness studios, swimming pools and climbing halls, which are open to all students at the university and can usually be used free of charge.
What university sports are in Germany, intramural sports are in the USA, except that the latter are significantly larger. As the term suggests, the intramural sports take place exclusively within the walls of the university. These are therefore university-internal sports groups that do not compete against teams from other universities.
The students do sports for the joy of what they do. Every now and then there are friendly matches against other teams at the university, whereby the idea of competition plays a subordinate role. The Intramural Sports are ideal for students who want to try a new sport or do sport as a leisure activity.
Are you fit in a sport, would you like to put your skills to the test and train with other students? For this purpose there are sports clubs at American universities. Club teams are student-led and compete in regional competitions against clubs from other universities. Some clubs have large fan bases who regularly accompany the players to the competitions and cheer them on.
The sporting level of the club teams is usually higher than that of the university-internal sport groups. Therefore, the students invest more time in the training. The clubs sometimes receive grants from the university, for example for travel expenses or for the purchase of new equipment. Nevertheless, in club sports, in contrast to varsity sports, the focus is on leisure time.
Sports scholarships in the USA
The university selection teams are a figurehead of American universities and thus an important instrument of student marketing. If the sports teams achieve success, this usually also has a positive effect on the number of registrations. In addition, universities with successful sports teams can secure their high income from television contracts and count on higher donations.
For this reason, the colleges and universities in the USA are always on the lookout for new talent for their varsity teams and also keep an eye out for international students. To attract new students, universities make use of sports scholarships. The idea behind it: A sports scholarship should pave the way for talented athletes to study at a university and improve the compatibility of studies and competitive sports.
Sports scholarships are available for different sports. An athletic scholarship covers the costs of studying in the USA for a period of up to four years on a pro-rata basis. It ensures that students with excellent athletic performance can finance their studies in the USA, a country located in North America according to remzfamily, but beyond that it has no relation to the actual course of study.
Athletes can study a course of their choice with a sports scholarship, provided that they not only have very good athletic performance, but also meet the academic and linguistic requirements of the course. In return for the scholarship, the athletes agree to represent the American university in competitions and, if possible, to contribute to the athletic success of the selection team. In the best case scenario, university sport in the USA can be the stepping stone to professional sport.