Why college sports is only popular in the USA


Have you ever wondered why college sports are so popular in the US but nowhere else? The reason is college sports provide something that US pro sports lack but pro sports in other countries have.

US pro sports has no soul

MLB, the NBA and the NFL are leagues with franchises instead of clubs. Franchises that are privately owned for profit. That move cities when they can make more money somewhere else. Where players come and go between franchises mid-season and there are no incentives for playing local athletes.

As a result these are franchises without souls or loyalty who exist only to make money for the owner. They lack roots in their local community and do little for society as a whole. Because of this some of their own local fans do not feel as passionate about them.

Enter college sports. The local college/university has been in the city for generations and it’s not going to move interstate. It’s not privately owned and run for profit, its run to help the community and society as a whole.

The college/university is tied into the local community in many ways, everyone in the city either went there or knows people who went there and so it represents them and their community and actually cares about them. Also many of the players are locally grown.

All of this makes many fans more passionate about their collage team than their pro team.

The rest of the world does not need the college alternative because our pro sports do not lack the community roots, representation and soul that US pro sports lack. In the rare case that they do lack it, local fans can turn to quality 2nd division or state league teams to provide it. Which brings us to our next point.

US pro sports has no 2nd division

Another reason the US needs college sports is that US pro sports don’t have good 2nd division or state leagues.

In Australia and Europe these leagues give athletes out of high school a level to grow, learn, and mature in, before they are ready for the pro leagues. In the US this role is filled by college sports.

They also provide authenticity in the rare case when that is lacking in pro sports outside the US. For example English soccer fans care more about their local Championship (2nd division of English soccer) team than they do about the Premier League.

If you wonder why US pro sports don’t have good 2nd division and state leagues we go into that and offer solutions to the problems with US pro sports in the empty soul of US sports and how to fix it.

Authentic and unique

The amateur nature and 170 years of tradition of college sports has given rise to charming idiosyncrasies like unique and endearing game day traditions, stadiums and mascots.

Here are some examples of the collage sports oddities. these have no place in the US pro sports world of business efficiency, slick marketing departments and stadiums made for corporate boxes.

Stanford University’s mascot is a tree named Cardinal…


Boise State University football team play on smurf turf. The field is colored entirely blue with orange, and so are the player’s uniforms. There could be any number of players on the field at any time!


Clemson University players touch a rock on a pedestal for good luck as they run onto the field. It used to be the coaches doorstop. He did not die making it a special memento or anything, he just started talking about his doorstop and getting players to touch it…


If Ohio State University players beat University of Michigan in the 120 year old rivalry the players are awarded a small trinket of gold pants inscribed with their initials and the score. This is because in 1934 someone asked the Ohio coach how his team would fare against the hot favorites Michigan; he answered

“They put their pants on one leg at a time just like everybody else”.

Ohio State went on to a famous underdog victory.


College gameday experience

The game day experience of attending college sports is superior to the pro equivalent. Games are held on college campuses, which tend to be nice places with the stadium surrounded by open parks and gardens rather than a concrete car park.

There is a tradition of tailgate parties before and after the game. This is a combined picnic, barbeque and beer garden for both teams’ fans to enjoy.

If you’re imagining red necks drinking Bud Light, think again. One famous tailgate locations is The Grove at Ole Miss (University of Mississippi). A grass covered grove surrounded by oak, elm and magnolia trees. Every game day it sees gentlemen in top hats enjoying gourmet hors d’oeuvre, seafood and BBQ served with fine kitchen ware, chandeliers and silver plated candelabras.

A more raucous experience can be had around Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. A colony lasting more than 24 hours springs up featuring Cajun and calypso food, conga lines and other festivities.

All this and the tickets are generally cheaper than the pro sports games.


Bright eyed amateurs

College athletes are admired in a different way because they have not yet been corrupted by money. They don’t showboat as much and are more humble. Ordinary people relate to them more as hard working strugglers trying to make it, rather than the spoilt millionaires of the pro leagues.

The amateur nature of the players makes the sports less predictable. Smaller body’s mean speed is more often a factor than strength. Also the defenses are not as well drilled which makes for high scoring and free flowing games.

The inevitable player turnover means it’s about the team not any individual. The team has a historic identity and sporting philosophy that will endure regardless of an individual star player who can only last a few years.

Deeper loyalty and rivalries

Loyalty with the fans is multidirectional and generational. Further evidence of the greater loyalty in college sports is that coaches and key non-playing personnel stay in their jobs longer than in pro sports.

College sports has been around for longer than the pro leagues so there are older and deeper rivalries. Rivalries are also more localized due to many colleges being in smaller cities that don’t have pro sports franchises.

Baseball is the exception for a reason

Further evidence of my point is that most of the the differences in favor of college sports over pro sports apply less to MLB than they do to the NBA and the NFL. In MLB

  • The teams and rivalries are as old as those in college sports.
  • The unique and quirky stadiums and traditions still exist.
  • MLB has a minor league which is close to a good division or state league in Europe or Australia.

As a result pro baseball still feels more human and less corporate.

So it has followed that baseball is the least popular of the major sports at the college level. College baseball is not as necessary because pro baseball still supplies a lot of what is good about sports that is missing in the NBA and NFL.

Betting on College Sports

The best place to bet on college sports are BC Game (review) and Nitrobetting (review). They cover all the NCAA games and have more live in-play betting than anyone. To see who has the best odds check the odds comparisons.

Have fun betting and GO LUMBERJACKS!


  1. Sage

    This is a stupid take. As a non-american, the best thing about their sports is the parity. Any team can win any year. Unlike European sports where there’s one dominant club that wins every single year. It’s like they miss autocratic rule in Europe and this is the next closest thing. That is soulless. Weak article.

  2. WHTID

    I’ll give you an opinion from an American that doesn’t care most of the crap sports here and has played and watched footie since I was a kid(COYI). I came across this article, because I was searching for the answer as to why we seem to value sports here to the extent that we do. Pushing our children from a young age not to enjoy the sport, but to beat the soul out of it… because, “if you’re not first, you’re last.” I feel like we’re developing monsters here, because even college level players are getting incredible perks under the table now and they’re like super stars long before becoming professionals. I personally think that’s backwards.

    If I’m subjected to watching a football or basketball game I would prefer watching a college game and this is why. Although some are already getting perks they’re still on a mission to go pro. They’re pressured to perform at a higher level pulling out all the stops and showing off for recruiters. As we’ve already discussed, other than baseball, there aren’t minor leagues, club teams, U21 teams, etc, so this becomes their platform to achieve their goal. I often times feel like the pros have the contract and the money and become stagnant especially once they’re seasoned… like it’s just another day at the office. All that said, I still don’t understand why it’s hyped the way it is and why so much money is flushed away on it.

    Anyways… that’s my 2 cents.

  3. Go Blue

    I disagree with most of this.

    “franchises without souls or loyalty” is completely off the mark. A few notable franchises have moved cities; the vast majority are as rooted in their community as any college. American professional leagues and teams do more charity work than we can appreciate. These teams and players mean something hugely significant to their fan bases. People in Chicago would jump in front of trains or sacrifice limbs for a Bears’ Super Bowl or Cubs’ World Series.

    Players change teams, that’s a fact. Any change in personnel is done with the idea of making money, that’s true. But the only way to make money is to win games, which is exactly where the fans and ownership’s incentives become perfectly aligned. Americans love professional teams as much as they love anything.

    Tailgating is just as popular on Sunday as it is on Saturday. The idea that the game is somehow “better” or more enjoyable because the players are less skilled amateurs seems silly. If that were true everyone should be watching League 8 in the UK rather than the EPL.

    They don’t showboat as much in college because the rules prevented it (the NFL adopted very similar rules this season, curbing almost all of the showboating). These college players are not exempt from the pressures and allure of money either. Ohio State was forced to fire a hugely successful coach, suspend a large number of star players, and forfeit the 2012 post-season (a season where they went undefeated and would have played for a National Championship) all because athletes sold items including those stupid golden pants. Last year’s Heisman Trophy winner faced similar scrutiny recently over selling his autograph.

    Finally, we don’t “need” college sports. We love college sports because we love sports, period. I have NEVER heard anyone that only watches the college game in lieu of the pro game for any of the reasons you’ve listed.

    • BitEdge

      Thats interesting. Why do you think college sports are so popular in the US and not elsewhere? We love sports in Aus and the UK and Spain and South Africa but we don’t need or love college sports. Does that indicate it fills a gap in the US market (if you don’t want to call it a need)? and why does that gap or need or desire not exist in any other nations sports market?

      • Go Blue

        I see no gap. For basketball and football athletes out of high school are rarely physical ready to play in the professional leagues. It makes sense that there would be an intermediary level between high school and the pros which allows these players time to gain experience. I know many soccer stars jump into the pro game at ridiculously young ages, perhaps because physical size plays less of a role in the game.

        Perhaps college sports aren’t popular outside this country because the infrastructure doesn’t support them being popular. I imagine if Aussie colleges built magnificent stadiums, provided great game day entertainment, and televised the games nationally then you would see the games selling out. We have built an industry out of college sports (one which sees the University of Michigan net over $5MM per home game) that allows the game to reach the masses and become as popular and pervasive as it has. College coaches make millions. The practice facilities and equipment are on-par with professional teams. It is only a small step down from the professional league in terms of infrastructure. To my knowledge colleges around the world don’t come close to this level of “professionalism” when it comes to their college athletics.

        I think you assume we like college sports because we find something inadequate about our professional leagues. I think we just want more and more of sports at the highest level and the pro’s can’t play enough games to satisfy that hunger so we take the next best thing, college athletics.

        • BitEdge

          This is good stuff. To your comment about watching League 8 in the UK rather than the EPL; there are a lot of people in the UK that do prefer to watch the football championship and league 1 to the Premier League. Not because they like to watch less skillful players, but it’s about feeling a connection with the club and being able to afford tickets.

          So the lower leagues in the UK is filling the role that college sports play in the USA. Aaah yes we are onto something. US pro sports league don’t have relegation so they don’t have good first division and second division leagues. The only one that sort of does is baseball with AAA and some of those teams are popular and get people to their games (mostly when they are in cities with no MLB teams) and with that being there collage baseball is less popular than collage football and basketball.

          Yah and in Australian sports leagues we don’t have second divisions as such but we have state leagues. The teams are often in towns that don’t have a team in the national league. So they play the part of second division leagues in Europe and collage sports in the US. But they are still no where near as popular as collage sports in the US

          BTW I don’t think you have huge interest in college sports because you have magnificent stadiums and nationally televised games. I think you have magnificent stadiums and nationally televised games because you have huge interest in collage spots and the industry grew out of that. I know good marketing can make it happen the other way around but I don’t think not for profit educational institutions would have been at that cutting edge of marketing 50-100 years ago when college sports got big.

          Real live Americans told me they prefer college football because it’s faster. I assumed that was due to the different size/speed of players, perhaps it’s just that they don’t stop for adds as much.

          • Go Blue

            You’re absolutely right. College sports became big business because we love college sports to the extent where a multi-million dollar industry can be spawned around that love for the games. I still maintain that this is not filling a “gap” in our love for the professional game. It is simply a natural extension of that passion for sports at the highest, most accessible level.

            I don’t think the college game is faster but the style of play is different and I could see that suiting some subsection of the fan base. I don’t see a noticeable difference in the amount of commercial breaks, I think that is all standardized by the television networks.

      • Mike

        Because all you “blokes” watch is stupid soccer, a crap sport that we (Americans) only subject our youngest children to until they are able bodied enough to play something a little more sophisticated than chasing an inflated ball around the grass.

  4. Sir Mixalot

    something that non americans probably don’t get is that it’s not just college sports – it begins at High School. there are cities that tick around the clock of their High School sports teams. from what i’ve been told by non americans, youth sports are far less likely to be associated with Schools and rivalries between them in other countries. our whole system is just different.

    the NFL doesn’t have minor leagues or “club teams” because they don’t have to. NCAA fills that role for them, and they are happy about it. the NFL works hard to keep the NCAA is business.

    college sports are kind of like high heels to me. I hate the *idea* of them. women wear these torture devices to make themselves look better… but man do they look better. similarly, NCAA atheletes are exploited for large amounts of money, and are punished hard for getting a small piece on the side to sustain themselves at all. but man, do I love NCAA basketball.

    as for “MLB has greater traditions b/c they have minor leagues”… MLB is just older, it’s been big business longer. if it was younger, there is a good chance that it would be different as well. further, baseball needs it’s minors as they utilize more players and need more depth (or maybe the game developed that way because they have the minor leagues, who knows… prob a bit of both) but those long lasting rivalries are there because the teams have been there longer. The Cubs and the Braves have been around for almost 150 years. by comparison, the NBA is about 60 years old, and the NFL about 90.

    Rutgers and Princeton played the first game of American Football, almost 150 years ago. it took awhile to get it going strong, but you’ll notice that collegiate football had a 60 year head start on the NFL. college basketball started about 50 years before the NBA existed, and had national championships more than a decade before the NBA existed. those pro sports probably wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for collegiate games.

    • BitEdge

      yah I guess given college sports have been around influencing the US sporting landscape for longer than the pro leagues, rather than saying college sports is how it is because of the characteristics of the pro leagues I should also say the pro leagues are how they are because of the characteristics of college sports.

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