Most common in the United States, college sports (often called college athletics) are competitive sports that are undertaken in postsecondary education institutions, such as universities and colleges. In America, college sports run on a two-tiered system, where the first tier is governed by an organization that mainly includes athletes of a higher caliber. These athletes are considered elite and are likely to move into professional sports competitions in the future. The second tier revolves around recreational sports clubs that enable the overall student population to participate in sporting activities.
For the first tier, the primary associations in the United States are the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA), National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA). There are also instances where sports are managed by their own associations outside of these three primary organizations.
College sports are typically characterized by competition between student organizations across different colleges. These competitions are also alternatively called intercollegiate athletics. Currently, American college sports are played in both local and national forums and are popular with the general public. Hence, they gain a lot of media attention. College sports are a central aspect of college life and most universities will offer a wide range of sports to accommodate student interests.
College sports began in the 1800s in some of the Ivy League schools. Both Yale University and Harvard University had college sports clubs for boating. The first competition occurred in 1852 between Yale and Harvard in rowing, setting the stage for other intercollegiate sports competitions. Following this event, other colleges and universities across the United States started offering college sports to students, and organizations began developing to support them. As time progressed and interest in college sports advanced, a number of sports were added. Some of the most popular sports were baseball, soccer and rugby. Many of the college sports were team sports, creating an environment for socializing as well as competition.
As the success of college sports developed in America, this extended across the ocean to other countries. However, America still leads the way in college sports with regard to prominence and popularity with the public. There are a number of reasons college sports are so popular in the United States, much having to do with culture and economics. From a cultural perspective, colleges build a sense of camaraderie amongst their students through college sports. After college students graduate, they often still feel a bond with the university and the college sports team, and that often carries through to future generations. From an economic perspective, college sports are often run like a business, providing additional revenues to the university and helping to promote the university to potential students. Colleges also earn funds from the sale of merchandise and in deals with the media. These economic incentives may not be as important in other countries, where universities and colleges are wholly or partly subsidized by the government, but this is not the case in the United States.
Due to this major source of income that college sports create, first-tier athletes are often offered scholarships to attend a certain college based on their sports abilities. The availability of these scholarships also attracts athletes from other parts of the world to apply to United States colleges, hoping to receive a subsidized education while playing for an American college team. The practice of providing scholarships to athletes has raised criticism in the past, with critics arguing that since universities and colleges are centers for education, education should come first rather than sports. In order to ensure that education is top priority for athletes, universities need to put in place metrics to maintain student athletes' academic performance over a period of time.
Currently, college sports are available at practically all institutions of higher education in the United States. The range of universities that participate, the number of sports offered and the amount of participants from both genders demonstrates how significant college sports are to postsecondary institutions in the United States.