University Sports in the USA

What do Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods and Peyton Manning have in common? For all three of them, the career began as a professional athlete at an American college. The prerequisites for this are the American higher education landscape, in which university sports play an outstanding role.

The basketball, football and baseball games of the selection teams of American colleges and universities are a real spectacle. The demand is so great that many games are broadcast on television. International students describe the atmosphere on campus before a sports event as unique. Exceptional purpose prevails everywhere. This is also expressed in many reports on the experience of studying in the USA.

However, the USA is not only known for its spectacular sporting events, but also for its comprehensive range of university sports. Anyone who likes sports is in perfect hands at a US college or university. But how is university sports organised in the USA? The following guide provides the most important information about college sports in the USA.

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 organised in associations and clubs, in the USA there is no comparable sports club system. The clubs will be replaced by university sports. As a result, the American universities are home to competitive and recreational sports.

Varsity Intercollegiate Teams

Varsity Teams are the colleges and universities’ selection teams. They compete against each other in various sports – from basketball and baseball to ice hockey, fencing, rowing and water polo. The teams represent their universities in national competitions. The sporting level of the games is correspondingly high. As the teams of different universities meet here, Intercollegiate Sports is also mentioned.

Varsity Sport is organised in several divisions. These are subject to the umbrella organisations 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. The majority of its members are large universities. These must offer at least seven (six) sports for men and seven (eight) for women. Compared to the other divisions, Division I universities have the largest budget and the largest contingent of sports scholarships. With the help of the scholarships, the universities specifically recruit athletes for their selection teams.
  • NCAA Division II: Division II universities and colleges and their sports facilities are usually smaller than Division I universities and colleges and their budgets are smaller. Accordingly, the number of sports scholarships to be awarded is also smaller. Universities in Division II must offer at least 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 the largest division in terms of numbers. Mostly small universities and colleges compete against each other, with a minimum of five sports for men and women. Division III students are not allowed to receive sports scholarships for their participation in uni teams and competitions.

In addition to the three divisions of NCAA, there is NAIA. It consists of smaller Four-Year-Colleges, which have a smaller range of sports activities. However, the performance of the teams is comparable to that of Division II sports teams.

Since a division’s membership does not depend on the performance of a team, it is difficult to make general statements about the performance of individual teams. For example, the best Division II teams can have a higher level of performance than the worst Division I teams. Nevertheless, Division I is considered on average to be the division with the highest sporting level.

Sports at universities in the USA

Collegiate sport in the USA has a strong identity-creating effect on everyday study life and contributes to the students’ sense of togetherness. However, it is not only the attendance of sporting events that promotes community spirit, but also the participation in a sports club or sports group.

If you want to be active on the campus yourself, there are plenty of opportunities. In addition to popular sports such as basketball, football and swimming, colleges and universities also offer exceptional sports such as bouldering, sailing and horseback 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.

Intramural Sports

What is university sports in Germany is the Intramural Sports in the USA, except that the latter are much larger in size. As the term suggests, Intramural Sports takes place exclusively within the walls of the university. These are therefore university sports groups that do not compete against teams from other universities.

The students do sport for the pleasure of the cause. Every now and then there are friendly matches against other teams of the university, whereby the idea of competition plays a minor role. Intramural Sports are ideal for students who want to try out a new sport or do sports as a leisure activity.

Club Sports

You are fit in a sport, want to prove your skills and train together with other students? For this purpose, American universities have sports clubs. Club teams are student led and compete against the clubs of other universities in regional competitions. Some clubs have large fan communities that regularly accompany and encourage players to the competitions.

The athletic level of the club teams is generally higher than that of the university’s internal sports groups. This is why students also invest more time in training. Some of the clubs receive grants from the university, for example to cover travel costs or the purchase of new equipment. In contrast to Varsity Sport, however, Club Sports focuses on leisure time activities.

Sport scholarships in the USA

The university selection teams are a flagship of the American universities and thus an important instrument of student marketing. If the sports teams achieve success, this usually 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, colleges and universities in the USA are always looking for new talent for their varsity teams and are also looking for international students. Universities use sports scholarships to recruit new students. The thought behind it: A sports scholarship should pave the way for talented athletes to study at university and improve the compatibility of studies and competitive sport.

Sport scholarships are available for various sports. A sports scholarship covers proportionately the costs of studying in the USA for a maximum period of four years. It secures students with excellent sporting achievements the financing of their studies in the USA, but has no connection to their studies.

Athletes can study a course of study of their choice with a sports scholarship, provided that they have not only very good sporting achievements but also the academic and linguistic prerequisites of the course of study. In return for the scholarship, the athletes agree to represent the American university in competitions and, if possible, to contribute to the sporting success of the selection team. In the best case, college sports in the USA can be the springboard to professional sport.