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Why American Universities Produce More Professional Athletes Than British Universities

Why American Universities Produce More Professional Athletes Than British Universities

The comparison between American and British sport is stark, particularly when it comes to universities. Across the pond there is so much time, money, and effort spent on university sports. Scholarships to prestigious universities are awarded to the best athletes; university matches are housed in massive stadiums and are televised to the nation, top professional clubs often hand pick students from the university sport scene.

So why hasn’t the UK system ever been such a springboard for students?

University, or College, sport in America really began in 1843 when Yale created their own boat club, followed a year later by Harvard – the first intercollegiate competition took place on Lake Winnipesaukee in 1852, effectively kick-starting the intercollegiate competition that America is so famous for today.

So why exactly are the intercollegiate competitions so lucrative? The answers can be found largely in economic and cultural topics. In the US, many universities operate privately and as a result use sport as a method of extracting donations from alumni (ex-students) and increasing the reputation of the university to entice potential students.

The potential economic windfall that comes with selling merchandise and air time on television is so lucrative, that the culture of producing high achieving sporting teams and attracting the best sporting talent is an accepted part of American university life.

With the route to sporting prowess so clearly defined from intercollegiate sport to the professional level in the US, what scope is there for students in the UK to use the university system as a springboard to a higher level of sport?

Perhaps our best university sporting talent is displayed at the British University and Colleges Sport (BUCS). The BUCS, since 2008, has acted as the governing body for sport in the United Kingdom and organises 50 inter university sports across over 160 universities. It’s estimated that the BUCS coordinates the sporting activities of around 2.3 million students and is the biggest domestic sporting programme in the UK.

Notwithstanding the huge reach of BUCS, why does sport in the UK not have the same appeal, or house the same talent as the US system does? The answer here is all about money.

In the UK we are privileged enough to be funded by the state to attend university, almost all of us will have a student loan and only the tiny minority will have some kind of scholarship to study at university, this means that sporting stars will not be attracted to attending university and will often go straight into sport when they leave school. Prime examples include Tom Daley, the Olympic diver who only finished his A-Levels last year.

This is why it’s common for elite athletes to move from around the world to an American university in order to receive a scholarship and play sport.

Sport in Western Europe, and especially the UK is in particular contrast to the States. The BUCS is still in its infancy, and perhaps over time its influence will grow even bigger but ultimately will never be the catalyst to produce consistent elite athletes like the American Inter collegiate system.

For a select few in America attending college always will, and always has been, the only route into professionalism.

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