Are College Sports Popular in Other Countries?

The more and more time I spend in the US, the more I get amazed by how popular college sports are. I had never been to an American University before I arrived at Pepperdine for my freshman year, and I was BLOWN AWAY by the infrastructure provided to student-athletes – locker-rooms, training rooms, academic labs, weight-rooms, study halls, and the list goes on. I was also amazed by how much prestige and support is given to student athletes, as back in Brazil things are completely different.

Little did I know, Pepperdine’s athletics cannot even compare to the bigger schools. After seeing USC and UCLA, I saw what a REAL infrastructure was. Later on, when I moved to Texas, I saw what true school spirit and passionate fans are supposed to look like. I’d risk saying that in some cases it is almost treated as religion. I think this is awesome, and I wish more people across the world would be able to experience this, and that got me thinking – are college sports popular in other countries?

After doing some research, I found that very few countries even have some type of intercollegiate athletic league, and none of them comes close to the NCAA in terms of popularity and infrastructure. Even NAIA and NJCAA (junior colleges) are bigger organizations than the ones found in other countries.

That being said, there are some countries that do have a intercollegiate league, and they might be an option for students that either don’t like or can’t move to the US. Here are the few countries that seem to have them:

England – British University and College Sports (BUCS)

Out of all the other countries, England probably has the intercollegiate athletic league that most resembles the NCAA, and it is called British University and College Sports (BUCS). Established in 2008, the BUCS currently counts with over 50 different sports, 170 member institutions, 5800 competing teams, and 120 different national championships every year.

Besides its respectable size, the BUCS have several differences when compared to the NCAA. First of all, it is somewhat rare for universities to offer athletic scholarships – and when they do, they range usually from £500 to £5,000. In the U.S., the average scholarship is $10,400 per athlete, and in some sports and schools that number might go up to $60,000 or $70,000.

Secondly, the scoring system for both institutions is very different. In the U.S., each sport has a certain degree of independence, and there is no such thing as an award to the best overall school. As an example, a school might be great at basketball and terrible at all other sports, and the athletic department will most likely be satisfied with its current situation. However, in the BUCS, the focus is centered on overall school results. Sports have their own championships and scoring systems, but at the end of the year, each sport will give a certain number of points to the BUCS ranking, and the school with the most points will be awarded the title.

Thirdly, the eligibility criteria is a lot looser for BUCS sports. While the NCAA has a whole handbook dedicated to establishing which athletes are eligible, BUCS athletes only need to comply to the following criteria:

  • Be a registered student at an institution which holds a level of BUCS membership;
  • Be aged 18 or over;
  • Be registered on a course (some exclusions apply);
  • Be registered on a study programme (some exclusions apply);
  • Be a player who is permitted by the National Governing Body of the sport concerned to participate in BUCS competition;
  • Have paid the appropriate Athletic Union or equivalent subscription.

That’s pretty much it. Easier, right?

Canada – U Sports

Canada also counts with an interesting intercollegiate sports league. Originally called CIAU Central, the league started in 1906 and only accepted universities from Quebec and Ontario. With time, the league started expanding and changing names – CIAU-USIC, Canadian Interuniversity Sports – until, in 2016, U Sports was created. U Sports currently counts with 56 member universities, over 12,000 student athletes, and its aim is to continue the development of collegiate sports in Canada.

U Sports currently offers the following sports:

  • Basketball (Men’s/Women’s)
  • Cross Country (M/W)
  • Curling (M/W)
  • Field Hockey (W)
  • Football (M)
  • Hockey (M/W)
  • Rugby (W)
  • Soccer (M/W)
  • Swimming (M/W)
  • Track & Field (M/W)
  • Volleyball (M/W)
  • Wrestling (M/W)

While U Sports has been growing in popularity, it is definitely geared towards Canadian Athletes. In sports like basketball and volleyball, there are limitations in regards of how many international student athletes each team can have on its roster (3 and 2, respectively). While there are some differences in rules, the majority of them resembles NCAA rules.

Other Countries – Minor Leagues

Some other countries also have their own leagues, but they count with a lot less sports and universities. The following were still worth mentioning:

  • Philippines: several basketball associations (the main ones are University Athletic Association of the Philippines and National Collegiate Athletic Association (Philippines);
  • New Zealand: University and Tertiary Sport New Zealand;
  • South Africa: University Sports South Africa.

Lastly, it is worth talking about the Universiade, which is an international competition for university students across the world, organized by the International University Sports Federation (FISU). The event is the second greatest multisport international event in the world, only behind the Olympic Games. These games have Summer and Winter editions, which happens every 2 years. The last Summer edition happened in 2017 in Taipei, and it counted with 145 nations, 11397 athletes, and 22 different sports. Japan finished in the top position, followed by South Korea and the host Taipei. The last Winter edition happened in Kazakhstan, also in 2017. It counted with 57 different nations, 1604 athletes, and 12 sports. This time, Russia finished in the first position, with Kazakhstan coming in second and South Korea in third.

Useful Links

Below are links to some of the organizations mentioned in the article, if you are interesting in learning some more about them:

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