Why do American colleges and universities have sports teams?



In the USA, college sports are popular, and colleges may offer scholarship based on athletic skills. Yet, universities spend significant money on sports, and nobody earns as well as the head of the sports team.

Considering that the universities are losing money on it, and it's not their core task, then why do they spend big money on sports? Who benefits, and how? Do all major universities have commercialised sports teams, or are there major exceptions of universities choosing not to take part?


Posted 2014-01-30T19:18:24.363

Reputation: 24 648

There are significant elements of prostitution in the ways in which universities are run. Revenue-generating sports teams are one of those. Nominally it's an extracurricular activity of university students. In fact it is the sports teams that spend money on making sure that athletes keep up with their academic work so they can stay on the sports team; in other words, in many (not all) cases, it is for the purpose of being on the sports team that those students are at the university. Sometimes they have athletes who have no actual interest in being students. – Michael Hardy – 2015-10-25T23:24:03.607

I come to this question after reading an article comparing American athletes and Chinese athletes at Rio 2016. It goes something like "many of the athletes that won medals for the US are currently or formerly a student of some colleges". Gosh, the comparison is totally out of context if we ignore such factors and traditions in American college environment. So this is an excellent question. E.g. "the one who won the gold medal for France is currently a college student" would be received very differently (and it is in deed a big deal). – Jim Raynor – 2016-08-14T19:55:31.070

Just curious (not my downvote): What's the question here? Is it, "Why do the sports teams exist?" Or, "Why is so much money spent on them?" (Those aren't necessarily the same question.) As for "Who benefits, and how?" I can think of benefits to the athlete (fitness, honing of athletic skills, a chance to play beyond high school), to the students (camaraderie), to the alumni (pride and continued interest) – but did you really need us to mention those? – J.R. – 2014-01-30T22:18:00.043

85I think this is a really good question. Where I come from we do not have the tradition of college sports, and to me as an outsider it seems rather perplexing and, frankly, entirely non-sensical for universities to (as a side-gig of sorts) also engage in quasi-professional sports. – xLeitix – 2014-01-30T22:24:15.457

4@J.R. The question is specifically between the link to semi-commercial sport teams (as opposed to small amateur teams for "ordinary" people) and universities, a link that, as far as I know, doesn't exist anywhere else (perhaps Canada, I don't know). I don't see how an athlete is favoured by his sports team belonging to a university, as opposed to being stand-alone. – gerrit – 2014-01-30T23:17:46.570

@gerrit Canada has sports teams associated with Universities. I can't comment on whether they are as "strong" a presence as US College sports though (in my experience, University sports in Canada are proportionally not as big of a deal). – Irwin – 2014-01-31T00:33:14.910

14"are there major [] universities choosing not to take part?" Caltech for one. – dmckee – 2014-01-31T02:38:12.777

3I strongly question the assumption that college sport don't make money. I've heard that mens football alone pays for all the other sports cost deficiencies with (LOTS of) money left over at most colleges. If we ignore the money, most students are in their early 20s and if they start a lethargic lifestyle now it is going to be really hard to get back into shape 10 years down the road. – krowe – 2014-01-31T05:30:22.517


@dmckee but CalTech is a member of the NCAA.

– StrongBad – 2014-01-31T06:51:28.570

42As a European I see this as an excellent question, it's a bit like tipping, what the heck is going on? – PatrickT – 2014-01-31T07:11:23.793


Related: http://www.reddit.com/r/explainlikeimfive/comments/1qsrmj/

– Jim G. – 2014-01-31T12:50:16.143


Krowe is right. It is true that the majority of US univ sports don't make money, but the ones that do (football, basketball, hockey in northern schools) pay for all the others. Regarding CalTech, their sports booster site looks just like every other school's.

– fool4jesus – 2014-01-31T13:13:30.403

2Kurt Vonnegut got it right in "God Bless you, Mr. Rosewater." The schools should pay the athletes for X years of competition during which time they do not attend class. They get a separate scholarship to attend as purely students at a later date. BTW, even at D-3 schools grades and courses get skewed to keep the jocks from flunking out. I know: I was a grader. – Carl Witthoft – 2014-01-31T14:55:47.757

1It seems to me that (in part) that this is an American manifestation of the notion of the "renaissance man". However, this does not explain why this did not happen in Europe. – Baby Dragon – 2014-01-31T16:16:39.753

5@krowe If the argument for college sports is that "it makes money", then why don't universities have whole divisions for exploiting other lucrative businesses like IT services, management consultancy, banking and brokerage? If the argument is public good (encouraging athletic lifestyle) then why does the US have such a high obesity rate and unhealthy lifestyle compared to European nations which don't encourage college sports? Why have countries like China and USSR been able to compete in the Olympics despite having much less emphasis on college sports? – Superbest – 2014-01-31T17:19:08.647

2The NFL and NBA have an interest in sustaining sports in US universities. The football team and the men's basketball team are the sports which dominate. Serious athletic programs in these sports serves as de facto development/minor leagues for the professional leagues (NFL and NBA) into which they feed. These leagues spend less on recruitment, development, and talent scouting as a result of the existence of university athletic programs. It is no accident that both resist hiring players out of high school (this has broken down in the NBA, in part due to the competition of European leagues). – Dan Fox – 2014-01-31T17:26:29.167

1I think that there is only one word for this !!!!!Money!!!! – None – 2014-01-31T20:09:36.237

@Superbest 1) Many of the various organization do participate in fund raising projects to make money. The major difference is that most of the other organizations don't have the draw to really make much money. You don't just walk into a chess tournament without a ticket and you don't compete without paying the registration fee. Yet the board and pieces cost less than either. If we could somehow figure out a way to charge the coaches we'd do that as well. Don't even get me started on the licensing. – krowe – 2014-01-31T20:27:32.760

@Superbest 2) I'd imagine if they did a study comparing obesity rates of US college athletes to European college students you'd find that atheletic competition does work for fitness. The # of student atheletes is very low compared to the total number of 20 somethings in the US so that isn't going to show in data measuring the overweight population in general. Another possibility is that while the US has a higher rate of obesity it may also have a higher rate of atheletic individuals (and therefore less average+underweight individuals). – krowe – 2014-01-31T20:27:49.197

@Superbest 3) Most countries are allowed to compete. I'm going to go ahead and assume that you meant to ask, 'why do they do well?'. The short answer is numbers. You are going to find a strong correlation between population size and wins. Also, the avg age of an Olympic athlete is 24yr old and the min age is 16. Many of the high skill\lower physically demanding event competitors are well above 32 years old. This means that a good portion in the more physically demanding events are not yet of age to be in college and those who are may put it off until after they go to the games. – krowe – 2014-01-31T20:29:57.157

1) I meant pursuing this activities with the same dedication as sports. If Harvard has a Football team to make money, why not a Harvard Investment Bank? 2) Perhaps the people who are college athletes would have been athletes anyway, so the college sports culture is not encouraging anyone to be more active, but only glorifying those who are already encouraged. 3) I meant compete in the sense of being competitive. My point was to challenge your assertion that college sports is somehow meant to encourage a more active lifestyle for the public. However, I feel we are filibustering the question – Superbest – 2014-01-31T20:36:25.637

1) The only person who is going to give a college student money to invest is that students' grandparents. Even if they go to HHHarvard. 2) Athletic scholarships more than make up for that I'm sure. 3) Yeah, and yep. – krowe – 2014-01-31T20:44:24.357

4The amateur statistician in me has to point out that graph is seriously misleading. Read the fine print: "Administrator figures are medians salaries, the rest are averages." It is true of salaries that they are very positive skewed. That is, the "top 1%" make a whole ton of money. An arithmetic mean (colloquially, "average") will be inflated much more by that top 1% than will a median. Thus, this graph makes it seem like non-administrators make more money than they actually do. (and quite likely, football coach salaries are the most skewed, of those shown) – Phil Frost – 2014-01-31T21:14:03.037

1@krowe - RE: most students are in their early 20s and if they start a lethargic lifestyle now it is going to be really hard to get back into shape 10 years down the road. This is a non-factor; a red herring. I'd guess that less than 5% of the students play varsity sports, so, to say that sports programs exist to promote a healthy lifestyle misses the mark. If long-term fitness were the goal, universities would spend more time promoting intermural sports where they could have a much higher participation rate. Fact is, we have sports because we are a sports-obsessed society. – J.R. – 2014-01-31T21:46:32.547

@J.R. Just like the chess club or the drama club or any other student org. football exists at colleges mainly because students want it. Part of that reason is because the college life is otherwise fairly sedentary. – krowe – 2014-01-31T22:02:42.783

@Superbest I think they DO have organizations like the Harvard Investment Bank, only they don't go by that name. They go under the name of "research programs." From what I've seen, universities (and the professors personally) make scads of money from corporations based on research. It's a win-win, of course: the univ and profs get money, the corporation gets advanced research, competitive advantage, and (eventually) high-quality talent in the form of the best students passed to them by the profs. – fool4jesus – 2014-01-31T22:08:30.740

As an American, I'm mystified by this practice as well, but also many of the theories proposed seem awfully weak and somewhat border on the feel of “conspiracy theories;” I don't see any that really makes sense proposed … – BRFennPocock – 2014-02-01T11:48:29.043

2Regarding various comments regarding sports in general: European universities sometimes do encourage amateur sports as health/personal development/socialization side activity. In mine, there is a “sports and culture” center where you can do tango, yoga, piano and taekwondo. Students and staff have access at reduced prices and all this is funded out of the university's general budget. That's not what the question is about. – Relaxed – 2014-02-06T12:41:36.500

1Wow, I'm impressed by the response this question has received! Currently 111 upvotes and 17 answers. I'm not quite sure about accepting a specific answer, as they're all valuable, in particular in combination. Perhaps I will choose one, but if I don't, don't take it as the question is unanswered, but rather as I don't want to choose one over the other. – gerrit – 2014-02-06T13:07:51.843

Somehow, USA culture elevated competition and team building (where competition is encouraged within the team as well, notwithstanding 'nice team playing' claims) to paramount values. Team sports promote these values: team building / team playing, competition among different colleges, competition within the team itself. In the USA, almost any activity is eventually turned into some sort of contest. – gd1 – 2014-02-06T17:17:57.510



Here is one side effect of a university having a famous sports team as mentioned by Federico Poloni in a comment: people know your name. This helps recruit new students, it helps alumni impress potential employers with a degree from somewhere they have heard of! I only know that Boise State University is actually a real university (and as it turns out a pretty good one) because their football field has blue turf.

One feature of American colleges and universities that is easy to forget is that they are often in the middle of nowhere. Pennsylvania State University is in a town named State College. You can guess which came first. So imagine you have thousands of young men and women in a place that is barely a town. What do they do on Saturday afternoon? Some will start organizing teams to play sports and then start going to nearby schools to play their teams. This grew greatly since the old days but the idea that a residential university is partly responsible for providing non-academic activities for their students take part in still exists as a real force. At smaller schools which do not have sports scholarships the sports teams are more about playing because the students enjoy it and it is just part of campus life.

Also at many schools the mission statements include character formation such as "building leadership skills." If this is the case you can actually argue that having some level of athletic competition on campus actually is part of the core mission. Maybe not an absolute vital part but one that contributes to the mission.

I am of course ignoring in large part the money and corruption that is part of the NCAA Division I level of college athletics. Of which there is an extraordinary amount of both.

Most schools, except for d3 schools, break even with their athletic programs. Americans want to be proud of something, that something for colleges is athletics. Most people wouldn't want to go to Harvard if they didn't have a good football team. I helps to bring diversity (age, interests, grades, and money) into colleges.


Posted 2014-01-30T19:18:24.363

Reputation: 4 721

@Superbest agreed, if I were looking at the poster promoting the school and I can read is about their sport teams, (or at least, that's their pride or what the focus the most on), it would be a big turn down for me. Becoming a sporty freak (not to mention a successful sport career after college) is not for everybody. I think people come to college and expect many other things other than the availability of sport teams they can join. – Jim Raynor – 2016-08-14T20:00:46.603

6But then I can't wear a t-shirt from my grad school without everyone thinking I like their sports teams. – Jonathan Landrum – 2014-01-31T14:32:50.377

95"So imagine you have thousands of young men and women in a place that is barely a town. What do they do on Saturday afternoon?" Ahem. – Jon – 2014-01-31T16:03:23.577

@Jon Tee-hee...They dance to the Bloodhound Gang's The Bad Touch. And by dance I mean... coughs – Gabriel – 2014-01-31T17:17:49.623

11It would be nice to see actual evidence (in a scientific sense) that sports teams improve name recognition in any way that is useful to the university or its graduates. – Dan Fox – 2014-01-31T17:20:19.277

28Wouldn't an emphasis on sports discourage the majority of academically brilliant students who are not athletes? I'm admittedly not American (nor brilliant), but when I see a school's website try to sell itself with things such as "student life" (Lame bars to go to and get laid 2 days before your finals!) and sports (Hope you don't need to park on game day, sucker!) I roll my eyes and skip over. It seems like a rational person would care about alumnus outcomes, quality of faculty and student resources (such as counseling and healthcare) rather than having a famous football team. – Superbest – 2014-01-31T17:26:39.160

26Frankly, all the points in this answer are attempts at justification in hindsight, and failed attempts at that. A side effect is not a reason, it is a side effect. And all of these side effects can be accomplished by other means, and in fact are accomplished by other means in other countries. Countless universities in Germany, France, Russia, you name it, are literally in the middle of nowhere, too. Yet somehow miraculously they make do without a sports team, let alone a professional sports team known nationwide or even outside the country. – ЯegDwight – 2014-01-31T21:17:54.427

1@ЯegDwight That ignores how central sports are to the American culture, particularly American football. And, in general, it isn't just about having a high-profile football or basketball team. Many universities and colleges support a number of teams and players in sports like wrestling, gymnastics, golf, tennis, and volleyball, to name a few. – Tyler K. – 2014-02-01T02:13:04.623

2@TylerK.: see, that is the answer right there. Sports are central to the American culture. Bingo. So why not just say that, rather than think up reasons that clearly aren't reasons if you look at other cultures. – ЯegDwight – 2014-02-01T02:16:01.203

1@TylerK. But surely sports is not less central to other cultures, which still don't have sports teams at universities? – xLeitix – 2014-02-01T22:24:06.927

2The last paragraph is incorrect. Of the top tier 1-A football programs, of which there are about 120 (~1% of all football teams in NCAA), only 22 made a profit or broke even in 2010-2011 according to The System by Benedict and Keteyian. Even if they are significantly wrong, college football and basketball are actually cost centers for the vast majority of universities. What is appalling, is that there has been a severe contraction of public state university funding and of research grant funding over the past few years, and these sports programs should be eliminated to save academics! – daaxix – 2014-09-25T04:14:42.457

3"Most people wouldn't want to go to Harvard if they didn't have a good football team" -- Harvard doesn't have a good football team (the Ivy League is D-1, but it's the lower half of D-1; Harvard's good relative to the Ivies, but compared to actual top football schools, not at all). Assuming it's anything like at Yale, the Harvard-Yale game matters, but most people don't care about the football team at any other time (their stadium generally isn't even half full except for Harvard-Yale). – cpast – 2014-11-18T05:20:10.823

4-1 (not really, didn't downvote) for supporting the claim that a semi-professional sports team is in any way significant in helping students develop leadership skills. – einpoklum – 2014-11-21T22:34:59.963

@ЯegDwight: that's demonstrably untrue. Almost any university in Western Europe is located in a town/city that already had an established presence before the university came along. It is true that some of those towns are not particularly exciting places to live in, but they don't come even close to places like Storrs (flagship campus of UConn), where if you remove students and university workers (faculty, janitors, etc), you are effectively left with a ghost town. – Koldito – 2014-12-06T14:46:15.013


The University of Chicago's president (can't remember which one) chose to not have sports teams many decades ago.

I think the practice of having college and university sports teams arose from one of the older functions of "colleges" and "universities", namely, as finishing schools for children of the wealthy, especially young men. (As opposed to theology seminaries, or medical or law schools, or teachers' colleges.) Just one more entertainment for them, but/and obviously the degree of quasi-professionalism was much less.

In any case, it seems that alumni generally are more entertained by sports than by science or literature, say. I think it is believed that maintaining general alumni enthusiasm via sports may spill over into donations for other things. Certainly the box office revenue and alumni donations make sports programs close to self-supporting, sometimes running at a profit, depending on how one does the accounting.

paul garrett

Posted 2014-01-30T19:18:24.363

Reputation: 44 682

3As opposed to theology seminaries, or medical or law schools, or teachers' colleges — do medical or law schools typically not have sports teams? – gerrit – 2014-01-30T20:17:12.163

9I think that medical, law, and business schools in the U.S. seldom have sports teams, yes. – paul garrett – 2014-01-30T21:22:59.157

4Indeed, because those schools are for students at the graduate level, whereas it's the undergraduates who play sports. – David Z – 2014-01-31T00:40:54.610

The Maroons are now a member of the NCAA and have a number of D-3 teams.

– StrongBad – 2014-01-31T06:55:10.227

@StrongBad, thanks for the fact-and-correction, but I am a bit disappointed by this turn of events. – paul garrett – 2014-01-31T13:24:50.610

@paulgarrett I think you're referring to the Chicago pulling out of the Big Ten (but according to the NY Times headline, it was reported as "Chicago Withdraws From Big Ten Because of Weak Athletic Teams"). But "The Maroons helped establish the Big Ten Conference ... in 1896" according to wikipedia. In any case, it sounds like sports has always been part of the experience at Chicago. – fool4jesus – 2014-01-31T22:13:33.050

@fool4jesus, possibly I am mis-remembering, but I had the firm impression that c. 1910 the president of U of C made the decision to avoid intercollegiate athletics. I hadn't paid enough attention to see the entire trajectory of the sports program there. – paul garrett – 2014-01-31T22:15:45.170

@paulgarrett That Big Ten withdrawal was 1946; maybe what you're thinking of is that in 1949 "[president] Hutchins abolished the football team, citing the need to focus on academics rather than athletics. Varsity football was not reinstated until 1969" (according to UC site). So there was still sports after 1946 (just not Big 10) and in 1949 Hutchins went one step further and dropped football, but presumably not other athletics. BTW have you been to the Robie House at U of C? It's a beautiful Frank LL Wright house there, though (when I saw it) not open to the public. Good discussion, this. :) – fool4jesus – 2014-01-31T22:48:55.003

@fool4jesus, aha, your recollection) or googling of this is much better than mine, but, yes, Hutchins was the guy. Only football, hm? Tsk. (I haven't been to U of C for so long that I have only dim memories of the architecture.) – paul garrett – 2014-01-31T22:54:18.333

@paulgarrett Mostly Googling. :-) Although it is certainly a beautiful place and certainly known for a lot more (and much more important) things than sports. – fool4jesus – 2014-02-01T00:13:58.127

2@DavidZ actually grad students play sports at the NCAA level. This is especially common for undergraduate students who only played for 3 years in undergrad (due to a redshirt year or an early graduation) and want to get a free masters degree. – WetLabStudent – 2014-02-02T00:05:15.953

@Paul: You're thinking of Robert Maynard Hutchins. He pulled UofC football out of the Big 10 Conference circa the 1940's and felt that athletics were a distraction: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Maynard_Hutchins. I attended the UofC in the 1990's: they had a football team, but not like other big American universities have a football team! In my last year there I lived across the street from Stagg Field....quite peacefully. It is not possible to live peacefully in the town of Athens when there is a football game, let alone across the street from Sanford Stadium.

– Pete L. Clark – 2014-02-02T03:50:40.330

By the way, I am happy to meet another UofC alum. Though it has been a while for both of us, I do see enough common ground between us to be unsurprised that we have the same alma mater. I cannot express how satisfied I am with the education I got at the University of Chicago: to me it is like a platonic ideal to which other American universities could only strive to emulate...if they wanted to, which they largely do not. – Pete L. Clark – 2014-02-02T03:54:04.467

...And of course, I am confident that you know what I mean by "a platonic ideal" because we both went to the UofC! – Pete L. Clark – 2014-02-02T03:55:44.037

There was also the idea of "mens sana in corpore sano" - sound mind in sound body - which many traditional liberal arts schools would have believed in. So having athletics was not only a diversion for wealthy students at elite institutions, it was viewed as a key part of the university experience. – Oswald Veblen – 2014-08-03T01:48:34.683


There are good answers already for why does there continue to be a huge emphasis on sports in American academia but none really answer the question.

The fact is that sports in America were introduced at universities out of necessity. Where in most parts of the world there has been long traditions of clubs or the local handling of games/sports, America had nothing. One small town might play another small town in a "sport" but that didn't satisfy everyone. You had elitist or exceptional athletes that wanted to compete against their equals, not Gary the blacksmith.

So this is mid 19th century and America is boiling. A nation divided on many subjects. So instead of a local rowing club or in today's terms playing for your company team, the easiest thing to gravitate to is a local university. They had the money, organization, place to play the game, and so on.

And back then universities had opinions and power concerning government and policy. So the elite universities (most were in this group at the time) wanted to take their debating and add physicality to it. Races, rowing, simple games. It invoked pride and if Harvard won the rowing competition then they must be right about slavery.

I didn't even ask who has time for games in mid 19th century? Well you are probably a male, somewhere between 20-35, you have lots of money, and no job - you go to school. This is the epitome of sports culture. Where are all of these people stacked at... Universities. So it was just the perfect storm.

Now once it started the early collegiate sports scene really was much like we see today - except it was admittedly like that in the late 19th century and early 20th century. What do I mean? Well players were old. You might not have many players on your football team under 20 and a few in their 30s. Some players student-status was highly questioned. There weren't really any rules at first and when they started the rules in the late 19th century there were ways around them.

Players were paid, sometimes "pros" went back to college, there were boosters... the schools were driven by pride, power, and money. Maybe the only things different were (lack of) media and that they were not preying on teenagers.

And the evolution of sports in the 20th century has gone from we have money and power so we will form the best teams, to we will get money and power from having the best teams. The big D1 schools are the worst. They hide huge huge earnings by allocating costs to sports teams so they can make millions/billions on tuition and licensing - yes everyone buys Texas Longhorns shirts for their Economics department.

Some universities "claim" to be losing money. There have been economic impact studies done showing that almost none that made the claims were even near losing money on sports. When they factored in advertising, enrollment, exterior sales, and so on. Really the only thing that makes sports somewhat costly for universities now is Title IX. Very few women's sports make money and most women wouldn't go to a university because their softball team is good.

So now we have the NCAA, colleges, tied-in businesses getting profits and tax breaks for players that are playing for free. This may change now that there has been talk of unionizing but could be years and years down the road.

Even if this happened and the landscape changed were the big sports went to a club system there would still be sports in American universities. They would function because students expect this now. Things would probably work like they do for club sports at current universities or how things work at most DIII schools. You play local teams, you drive to the game, pay for your equipment, maybe offset a little by entrance fees or a nice booster.

So why are there sports in American colleges? Pride, money, free-time of students, and the fact that there weren't other organizations to handle these things in the new America. Why will sports be played in American colleges in 100 years? Same reason they are played at clubs in France. Tradition.


Posted 2014-01-30T19:18:24.363

Reputation: 4 135

3I don't buy your argument that universities were the only organizations capable of organizing sports clubs. None of your reasoning is specific to the US so it should hold equally true in Europe. Except it doesn't, as you know. Most European universities have sports teams but almost all of them are just "Greg the blacksmith, well, er, metallurgy student". If there is a "long tradition" of sports clubs in Europe (I'm not sure that's actually true: few sports clubs are more than 150 years old), why didn't the dominant population of the US, European immigrants, continue that tradition? – David Richerby – 2014-01-31T10:48:09.923

1Where in most parts of the world there has been long traditions of clubs or the local handling of games/sports, America had nothing. Actually, college sports have been a tradition here for quite some time, and I'm surprised tradition hasn't been mentioned yet. It deserves its place in the discussion. In the U.S. college athletics stretches back well over a century. To ask why we have what we have now is to ask why things evolved the way they did. – J.R. – 2014-01-31T10:49:28.077


@J.R. inter-collegiate sporting competitions started with Harvard-Yale in either 1852 with rowing or if you are a traditionalist 1875 with American football.

– StrongBad – 2014-01-31T11:12:18.150

Universities were definitely NOT the only organizations who had sports teams. If you look at the history of baseball, for example, throughout the early part of the 20th century, many companies had their own traveling baseball teams. Also, I don't know that it's right to say that European sports teams are/were just "Greg the blacksmith, well, er, metallurgy student". In C.S. Lewis's book Surprised by Joy, it's clear that the same kinds of boys who are said to have gravitated to sports in US schools did the same in English ones at least. Maybe it's US-and-England vs Europe, but I doubt it. – fool4jesus – 2014-01-31T13:09:54.390

@fool4jesus My reference to "Greg" was referring back to the answer, which stated that town/village teams made up of ordinary people ("Greg the blacksmith") weren't good enough for elite athletes. I modified the quote to suit European university sports teams, which are composed almost entirely of ordinary students. – David Richerby – 2014-01-31T14:50:00.683

@StrongBad: I am a real traditionalist. (Un)Fortunately, that rivalry did not last too long.

– Willie Wong – 2014-01-31T15:45:51.683

@DavidRicherby - They weren't the only organizations at the time capable of organizing sports teams. However they were the best equipped. Do you want to row for Middleton township or Harvard. Also those who mention baseball and the traveling clubs... Collegiate sports in America were first. – blankip – 2014-01-31T19:19:34.393

1@fool4jesus - You bring up good points. Maybe I should have spent more time comparing the athletic level. D1 schools in the US have elite athletes. These athletes - not all but a lot of them - are good enough to get paid to play in other parts of the world. I spend a lot of time in France (and have been offered a McDonald's salary to play club basketball) and I can tell you that no college age boy would be playing for his university basketball team if he were good enough to play for a local club. – blankip – 2014-01-31T19:23:49.490

@blankip That's interesting. This kind of reminds me of the history of rugby in England, where you had the split between union (played by amateurs in university) and league (played by professionals on local teams). – fool4jesus – 2014-01-31T21:55:53.283

@DavidRicherby When you say "European universities," are you talking primarily on the continent? From what I know (having spent most of my time in the US, I am definitely not an expert), the US situation is really quite similar to the situation in England. Namely, that sports have long been fairly big business, and the athletes elite. I think either of Lewis or P.G. Wodehouse's novel "Mike" (published in 1909), both of which show that public school athletes were indeed an elite breed. Maybe things are different on the continent, but we in the states are incorrigible anglophiles. :-) – fool4jesus – 2014-01-31T22:02:51.987

1@fool4jesus No, I'm talking primarily British universities and, to the best of my knowledge the rest of Europe is broadly similar. Sport in British universities is not "big business" or, in fact, any business at all. The only British university sporting event that the average member of the public might even be aware of is the annual rowing race between Oxford and Cambridge. For anachronistic reasons, 5 or so university cricket teams play matches against professional sides and those get literally a couple of column-inches in broadsheet national newspapers. Everything else may as well not exist. – David Richerby – 2014-01-31T23:51:10.550

@fool4jesus So, in summary, the UK situation is absolutely different to the US. It's hard to find even any similarity. – David Richerby – 2014-01-31T23:52:25.133

@DavidRicherby I'll take your word for it, as I'm sure you have better information than I do. I just know what I've read in literature. Also, the BUCS doesn't look that much different from the NCAA's.

– fool4jesus – 2014-02-01T00:12:25.433

1@fool4jesus The difference between the BUCS and the NCAA is about a bazillion orders of magnitude of exposure. Ask 1000 Americans what the NCAA is and my guess is that 950+ will give the correct answer. Ask 1000 British people what the BUCS is and I'd say you'd be lucky if even one of them could tell you. I'm pretty well informed and I've studied/worked in British universities for nearly 20 years: your post was the first I've ever heard of the BUCS. – David Richerby – 2014-02-01T00:29:31.823


A partial answer is that the proposition that universities lose money on sports is controversial. Some sports bring in large amounts of money, making the athletics department as a whole not lose too much money, and most universities believe that the alumni donations brought in by the existence of sports teams more than make up for any remaining loss. (For public universities this is even more extreme, since the state legislatures that apportion money are often very fond of those athletic programs, to the point that state universities do better in state appropriations in years when their most important teams are doing well.)


Posted 2014-01-30T19:18:24.363

Reputation: 17 773

1Also, free advertising. – Federico Poloni – 2014-01-30T21:38:57.223

1For an example of free advertising, look at the influence of Stephen Curry on Davidson College. – Zach H – 2014-01-30T23:17:38.007

2@FedericoPoloni I don't doubt that college sports is an effective form of advertising. But "free"? – David Richerby – 2014-01-31T10:34:56.340

@DavidRicherby good point... – Federico Poloni – 2014-01-31T14:09:15.097

3"state universities do better in state appropriations in years when their most important teams are doing well" - really?! I don't disbelieve you, its just that it so fits my world view that I thus immediately am skeptical because it's almost too good to be true. :) – BrianHall – 2014-01-31T14:14:08.133

2But even if university sport teams don't lose money, this is no explanation of why they exist. Oil extraction platforms don't lose money, but most colleges don't have their own oil extraction platforms. – rumtscho – 2014-01-31T15:57:54.227


Butler's another example of the kind of advertising success at sports can bring. This article estimates the value of Butler's two trips to the NCAA finals at over $1 Billion to the school.

– Noah Snyder – 2014-02-01T03:19:15.600


Your assertion about the ROI on Alumni donations seems to have been disproven by the studies referenced here: http://www.knightcommission.org/collegesports101/chapter-8 (although, it doesn't say anything about the influence of those team sports on State funding for State universities, so that part of your argument might still be valid).

– Stephan Branczyk – 2014-02-01T21:51:36.843

@StephanBeanczyk: My assertion was that universities believe that sports bring in enough alumni money to be worth it. (Though, as that link hints, the point is that universities believe sports bring an assortment of indirect benefits of which alumni donations are only the most concrete. The link points out that the universities may well be wrong about that, too.) – Henry – 2014-02-02T14:22:28.830


In addition to looking at this from the perspective of universities, it's also worth looking at this from the point of view of professional sports leagues. In Europe soccer is based on a free market system with intense competition for players between leagues and between teams in the same league. As a result, teams sign younger and younger players. Thus top soccer players don't go to college (or even high school). In the US, by contrast, the leagues are strong cartels who collude to keep down the cost of talent. Both football and basketball in the US have strong salary caps (limiting how much a team can spend overall, and in basketball on how much they can spend on each player), revenue sharing (where the richest teams have to give money to the poor ones), etc. In particular, the leagues are able to enforce an age minimum. In basketball they require that americans be one year removed from their high school graduation date, and in football that's 3 years. This means there's a huge pool of future professionals who are barred from working in the professional leagues. In steps the NCAA, which is again a cartel which keeps down labor costs, and who has barred any member schools from paying their athletes. This seriously decreases the costs of running a sports team, and thus makes the cost/benefit analysis more favorable.

Noah Snyder

Posted 2014-01-30T19:18:24.363

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We shouldn't forget that most American universities were founded at a time when there was great admiration for classical culture. Academics in the mid 1800's would have been well aware of the Athenian ideal of "A Perfect Mind In A Perfect Body". The Apollonian and Dionysian ideals were very alive for these people.

It was only the demands for a relevant education in WWII and the 1960's that ended the classical educational curriculum with it's requirement that all students learn Latin or Greek. American universities remain a forest of Ionic columns.

You can get a good sense of the position of 'sport' in the culture of the upper class in the 1920's by watching Fritz Lang's 'Metropolis'.

I'd remind that one criterion for Rhodes scholarships is that of athletic prowess.

Even as late as my own adolescence in the 1970's there was an assumption that the 'best' [male] students were the athletes. The ideal was Tommy, the quarterback of the high school team, and Suzy the cheerleader.

Also remember that many universities in the US were training grounds for the military.

In Europe, universities were more likely to have grown from the church.


Posted 2014-01-30T19:18:24.363

Reputation: 191


In the US, you're less likely to have multiple professional teams in the same sport representing the same city. The number of franchises is set by the professional leagues themselves (with the US government exempting them at different times from antitrust monopoly regulations).

The cities in the US that have two teams have either stolen an existing team from another city, or they've been able to convince the professional leagues to expand the set number of teams (the latter of which very rarely ever happens).

In Europe, there are no such restrictions, if a homegrown team is good enough, it will just start moving up through the ranks even if the city it inhabits already has other teams that are playing at that level. This artificial scarcity is what's providing American Universities with the opportunity to have semi-professional teams.

Unlike major team sports in North America, where franchises are awarded to nominated cities, most European teams have grown from small clubs formed by groups of individuals before growing rapidly.


Clubs therefore had an equal chance to grow to become among the strongest in their particular sport which has led to a situation where many cities are represented by two or even three top class teams in the same sport. In the 2011–12 football season, London has five teams playing in the Premier League, while Liverpool and Manchester also have double representation.


If you think about it, in the case of American Football, 32 franchises is not nearly enough for a country like the US (which has way more than 32 cities potentially capable of supporting one or more real football teams at the professional level). And the cities could all battle it out with their own football teams, to see which ones are the better ones that should enter those leagues, but the professional leagues do not want teams selected that way.

Stephan Branczyk

Posted 2014-01-30T19:18:24.363

Reputation: 1 379

2I think you may be overstating the relationship between sports and the government/military. – Nate Eldredge – 2014-01-31T17:24:38.830

It may be noteworthy that the US military has been all-volunteer for quite some time, now, regardless of the various quasi-wars in which they're actively engaged. I'm really not sure I see any particular relationship with sports team, though; as you pointed out, after being in the military perhaps one might get one's college paid-for, but if you can afford college yourself, you probably won't join the military; ergo, sports scholarships are competing against potential military recruitment… – BRFennPocock – 2014-02-01T11:43:15.523

Yes. After doing further research, I think you're both right. And I've edited my post accordingly. – Stephan Branczyk – 2014-02-02T03:04:03.333

It is simply not true that the US can't have multiple teams in the same sport for the same city. Chicago and NY each have two baseball teams, NY has two football teams, and NY and LA have two basketball teams. – Henry – 2014-02-02T14:35:47.270

@Henry, I've just corrected my post. You were right. – Stephan Branczyk – 2014-02-02T23:43:59.630


In order to understand why big college sports exists in the US, I think it's important to understand the role that they play. For someone coming from Europe, I think this is the best explanation:

Big conference American Football is the closest U.S. equivalent to international soccer in Europe.

The Ohio State-Michigan game is our equivalent of a Netherlands-Germany soccer match. It's what gets millions of people of all ages across a state out wearing team colors and rooting together.

It makes a lot of sense that states should be running sports teams to play each other in the US the same way that countries in Europe run sports teams to play each other in Europe. (Remember that many US states are larger than a lot of European countries.) That the states happen to run their teams through their state-run universities is a bit strange, but the underlying concept of state-based sports teams makes a lot of sense.

Noah Snyder

Posted 2014-01-30T19:18:24.363

Reputation: 12 794

But that's not true, there's Pro American football teams based on states and cities as well, NFL likely being the most recognizable and the NFL arguably attracts more attention. For example, the Denver Broncos and the Seattle Seahawks are not associated with any University and yet, both the University of Washington and the University of Colorado: Boulder both have their own American football sports teams. – Irwin – 2014-01-31T16:18:53.013

2City-based pro teams are like European city-based pro teams while college sports are more like national teams. – Noah Snyder – 2014-01-31T16:22:20.160

I agree that the rivalries are similar, but I don't think that really has much to do with the "why" part of this question. Also, I don't agree that "it makes a lot of sense that states should be running sports teams." In fact, I think that's what prompted this question – that really doesn't make much sense. I mean, it's not like a bunch of college presidents sat around a table and said, "You know what this country really needs? Athletic rivalries, like they have in Europe. And what better place to do that than on our college campuses?" – J.R. – 2014-01-31T21:38:16.820

@StephanBranczyk, actually NYC has essentially no college teams worth talking about in any sport (and I say this at Columbia!). However it has 2 pro baseball teams (Yankees and Mets), 2 pro basketball teams (Knicks and Nets), and 2 pro football teams (Jets and Giants). So I agree with (my former professor) Noah Snyder – chmullig – 2014-02-03T03:25:28.093


Something I couldn't understand in American culture. Last summer, I've read an article - an interview with some south-american novelist (I can't remember his name).

He said, it's a psychological trick. Generally, people going to university are among the best. They were the best, or one of the best in school. Now some of them have to be worst. People dislike being the worst, even if they are the worst among the best, and it's very discouraging. Many talents could get lost because of that.

But if we get sportsmen, they would be usually the worst in the class, and they would be perfectly happy with it, as long as they would get promotion and could concentrate on sport.

It's a logical argument for me.


Posted 2014-01-30T19:18:24.363


Except we have exceptional athletes who are also great students, which basically invalidates this argument. – 190290000 Ruble Man – 2015-10-14T22:04:50.350

By south-american, do you mean from the USA south or from South America? – gerrit – 2014-01-31T10:14:47.720

Somewhere from South America... – None – 2014-01-31T10:15:55.760

2@gerrit South-American = Argentina etc.; southern-American = Alabama etc. – David Richerby – 2014-01-31T10:56:27.220

2@DavidRicherby Right. I thought so, but considering the context, I was wondering if ŁukaszL meant the same. – gerrit – 2014-01-31T12:39:24.510

A few hundred "worst" out of 40,000 students does not have an appreciable effect. There are plenty of much better reasons, and I'm surprised anyone familiar with American higher ed agrees with this assessment. – Zach H – 2014-01-31T15:02:25.003

I'm gonna go ahead and speculate that this is not the reason. – xLeitix – 2014-02-01T22:42:49.897

This doesn't work as well when people start saying "maybe I'm not the worst in my class, but the only person who is worse is an athlete - those guys don't even count!". – Superbest – 2014-04-15T08:08:54.647


Most of these answers address the existence of large sports competing at the highest level, or historical reasons for why sports first appeared. Here, most of the major points have been covered. It's important to note that the effects on alumni donations and new student enrollment (quantity and quality by standard metrics) are not speculative. See this paper and this paper. At the college where my dad teaches, when the basketball team makes the NCAA tournament, their applications increase both in quantity and quality. For this reason, the president loved the basketball team despite not caring a whit about sport.

I'd like to address why smaller colleges would choose to have sports programs, despite negligible ticket sales and no TV contracts or media coverage. The rationales they present are typically in the form of character building, and this aspect should not be ignored. As a college athlete, I learned a great deal about social interaction and that awful buzzword 'teamwork'. At our athletics department banquet, someone always quoted the (apocryphal) words of the Duke of Wellington, "The battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton." As institutions pride themselves on crafting the whole individual, it makes sense that they provide the opportunity to play sports.

Another important aspect is recruiting. My choice of college was heavily influenced by the opportunity to play volleyball. Since graduating, my alma mater has added six new sports teams, all of which are sports traditionally played by the children of upper-middle class families. This is not coincidental: colleges are competing for students, especially those who can pay full tuition. For an explicit discussion of the economic benefits to the institution, scroll down to the Division III section of this article on why colleges are adding football teams (the first section addresses the financial and aspirational benefits to larger colleges).

Lastly, the role of sports in helping students identify with their college is immense. This is larger at universities with major sports programs, but still non-trivial. When we played our rival, people came out and watched (which they almost never did otherwise). At those competitions, students identified with our college in a visceral way. As seen above, this can significantly influence the student's relationship with the institution.

Zach H

Posted 2014-01-30T19:18:24.363

Reputation: 1 004


Considering that the universities are losing money on it, and it's not their core task, then why do they spend big money on sports? Who benefits, and how?

Big money is only really spent on Football, and to a lesser degree, Men's Basketball. Football generally does turn a profit, provided you are a successful enough team. Think of it as an investment. Pouring money into your football program is a huge risk. What if the team performs poorly? What if there is a lack of interest from students and the community? Your money could easily be wasted if this were to happen. That being said, if the team wins and the community supports it, there is a great deal of profit to be made.

The money that lost in athletics usually comes from other, less popular sports. College football teams have multi-million dollar TV deals and merchandising rights. Certain programs have helped develop a brand for their university and in turn generate a demand for everything from t-shirts to admissions.

Less popular sports however, do not generate such buzz but still require money to stay afloat. When Title IX became law in the '70s, it did amazing things for women's athletics and civil rights as a whole. Unfortunately, public interest is not that high for many "Title IX" sports. These teams, by law, must exist and while more popular sports such as football and basketball can generate profits, the less popular sports consume more than they can generate. This is where the losses come into play.

Now, why do colleges and universities bother to host athletic teams if in the end they only cost money? It comes down to branding. Each college and university in America is competing for the best and brightest students. American higher education is a business, and a great majority of these schools exist in order to turn a profit. Why would a student choose to go to the University of Alabama over Harvard if he or she were accepted into both? Because of Alabama's brand. Harvard may offer a better education and hold a more prestigious position in the academic community, but Alabama wins national championships and that appeals to the youth of America. This also entices kids from the opposite of the country to attend school there. Each state hosts multiple colleges and universities, so a popular sports team can be a good reason to lure a kid out of his or her home state.

Plain and simple, college sports teams (as a whole) are loss-leaders. They are investments in marketing and allow the schools to have a national appeal. This appeal allows schools to justify higher admission costs and creates a demand among high school graduates nationwide.

Dryden Long

Posted 2014-01-30T19:18:24.363

Reputation: 131


Do all major universities have commercialised sports teams, or are there major exceptions of universities choosing not to take part?

In the U.S., most major universities have sports teams, but not necessarily "commercialised" sports teams. For the most part, the bigger and more well-known the school, the stronger the commitment to big-time athletic programs, although there are some exceptions – a few very well-known universities do not have major sports programs. For example, MIT and Carnegie-Mellon are known for academics first, and sports teams second, although even these schools field intercollegiate squads in sports such as tennis, track, and volleyball.

As for why they have sports teams, that is rooted in tradition. Collegiate sports rivalries go back into 1800s, and grew from there. It's part of campus life, in the same way other extracurricular activities are. The U.S. is a sports-obsessed society, and, to some extent or another, sports programs attract a rather strong spotlight in both high school and college.

Why do they spend big money on sports?

Not every school spends big money on sports, and not every school spends big money across all sports equally. In the U.S., universities form athletic conferences. Some of the more well-known athletic conferences include the Pac 12, the SEC, and the Big 10. (The Big 10 so rooted in tradition that it still calls itself "The Big 10" even though there are presently 12 teams in the conference). Other conferences, such as the Mid-American Conference, are comprised of teams that would not be considered athletic powerhouses. Teams in the same conference compete against each other in several sports. The Ivy League consists of some of the oldest and most prestigious schools in the U.S., and they compete against each other in both major sports (football and basketball), as well as other sports (such as volleyball, golf, and ice hockey).

A key thing to understand is that not all schools devote the same amount of resources to their athletic programs. Conferences are generally made up of universities of comparable size, in roughly the same geographic region, with a commitment to athletics commensurate with other schools in that conference. Moreover, some schools might be known for having a very strong team in just one or two particular sports (for example, Wichita State University usually fields a very strong baseball team).

Joining a major conference means a major commitment to athletics – you wouldn't see Eastern Texas Baptist University trying to join the Big 12 unless they were prepared to dedicate the resources needed to field competitive teams in that conference, and the conference wouldn't let them join without that commitment, either.

As for why a vast amount of money is spent on sports teams, that is rooted in prestige. In a sports-obsessed culture, a well-known sports team can put your university on the map. The average person on the street couldn't tell you much about the chemistry program at USC, or the computer science courses offered at Notre Dame, or the economics department at Michigan State, but five men in a barber shop could talk about their football teams all afternoon.

There are hundreds if not thousands of universities in the U.S. The state of Georgia, for example, has about six dozen places where a student could obtain a degree. Most of these schools probably have sports teams, but only about four or so have have big-time, big-money commitments and nationally-recognized sports teams. The rest of the schools have athletic teams with everyday students who just happen to be on the diving team, or the wrestling team, or the softball team, participating in what amounts to an extracurricular activity, rarely playing their sport in front of more than 50 fans.


Posted 2014-01-30T19:18:24.363

Reputation: 10 824


I am gong to assume that the NCAA is a reasonable proxy for "commercialised sports teams". The NCAA has 1,200 members which while large is not every accredited US university. A quick check of your list of major universities reveals Pomona, with an endowment of 1.6 billion, is not a member of the NCAA. Despite its sizeable endowment, with only 1,600 undergraduates I am not sure it qualifies as a major university.

As for the who benefits part, I will just quote the NCAA

The result is that NCAA student-athletes are graduating at a higher rate than other college students. More than eight out of 10 student-athletes will earn a bachelor’s degree.

Student-athletes work hard throughout the year to be among those who qualify to compete for 89 NCAA championships. That experience teaches them time management, leadership skills and the importance of working toward a common goal. They are the tools for success that last a lifetime.


Posted 2014-01-30T19:18:24.363

Reputation: 74 063

4The reason that colleges run athletics programmes is certainly not that athletes get better grades. Better grades for a handful of students for so much money spent would be a terrible return on investment. – David Richerby – 2014-01-31T10:54:42.137

1When we speak of the "college athlete", what often springs to mind is Division I football or basketball. That seems to be a world of its own, where college campuses are essentially training leagues for professional sports. However, that's a minority of college athletes, the bulk of which compete on swim teams, on crew teams, on fencing teams, on polo grounds, on lacrosse fields, etc., often with hardly more than 30 or 40 people in the stands (mostly parents and significant others). Even college baseball (though baseball is a huge sport in the U.S.) has a relatively small following. – J.R. – 2014-01-31T10:56:02.917

@DavidRicherby - I don't think StrongBad or the NCAA are making the claim the athletes get better grades. Rather, they are trying to offset the stereotype that college athletes are nothing more than dumb jocks taking watered-down courses. Though I won't deny the existence of that, it doesn't tell the whole story. There are many athletes who excel in the classroom and have a more fulfilling college experience due to their participation in athletics – that's all that's being said here, I think. – J.R. – 2014-01-31T10:59:28.180

@DavidRicherby you are correct. I was answering the "who benefits" part. I edited to clarify. – StrongBad – 2014-01-31T10:59:47.093

@J.R.: Your comment above makes a good point, and would IMO be a good answer (or at least the core of one). From a non-U.S. perspective, pretty much all we see of American college sports is the high-level "semi-pro" stuff; it's easy to miss the fact that it's only the tip of the iceberg. – Ilmari Karonen – 2014-01-31T14:21:28.837

@IlmariKaronen Sure but it's only the "semi-pro" stuff that's unusual to the US. European universities have plenty of sports teams but they're a minor feature of university life and nobody outside the universities cares about them. – David Richerby – 2014-01-31T14:54:37.180

The NCAA is not a reasonable proxy for commercialized sports teams. A much better proxy would be the "Football Bowl Subdivision" which is 125 schools. – Noah Snyder – 2014-01-31T14:55:40.707

@DavidRicherby in the UK there is no undergraduate teaching on Wednesday afternoons so the sports clubs can compete making sports far from a minor feature of university life. – StrongBad – 2014-01-31T15:01:06.327

@StrongBad I've worked, taught and studied at four different UK universities and never heard of this supposed fact. – David Richerby – 2014-01-31T15:10:23.537

@DavidRicherby This search turns up links on the first page to Kent, Dundee, Manchester, Birmingham, and Newcastle all freeing up Wednesday afternoons. Glasgow seems to be a mixed bag with the official policy being no classes, but students complaining.

– StrongBad – 2014-01-31T15:40:19.413

Colleges admit athletes in "minor" sports because by law they have to have some sort of gender parity, and because they want the GPAs of athletes to look good. Your typical athlete works hard and is disciplined, so is an above average student. Also they get a lot more tutoring than most students. If those GPAs were only from the football and basketball teams they wouldn't be so high. I've had a second semester senior in class who in addition to being the starting fullback on the football team was functionally illiterate. But he graduated from a major state university. – Dan Fox – 2014-01-31T17:33:31.463

@DanFox - Just to offer some contrast, my roommate was a two-sport college athlete (lacrosse and swimming). He was also a mechanical engineering major with a GPA over 3.00. He didn't get any special tutoring. It was a small state school that played Division I in only one sport. Big-time sports may be big business, but smaller sports are more about offering students a chance to participate in extracurriculars, not too unlike the school-run newspaper, the school-run radio station, the Greeks, and the organized outdoor rec programs found on our campus and on the many others like it. – J.R. – 2014-01-31T21:29:49.473


American universities are about achievement, not just academics. So sports teams fall under the "achievement" rubric.

Compared to Western Europe and East Asia, America has a lot of land, and relatively few people. This led to a lot of land-based colleges in "agriculture and mining (A&M for short). During the country's short history, Americans have been "brawnier" than Europeans or Asians. That's because there have been many more opportunities to get rich by "working the land" in some way (e.g. the California gold rush).

"Nobody earns as well as the head of the sports team." Basically, no one under the age of forty earns as well as say, Derek Jeter in baseball, or Tom Brady in football, etc. Sports team coaches exist to train (some) Americans for these exertions and high earnings. And if the programs lose money on say, ticket sales, they make it back on alumni donations (at least the successful ones do).

A more mundane example of "brawn over brain" was the story of Michael Dell. In high school, his teacher (who had taught the class to fill out income tax returns) was shocked to find out that he earned more as a 16 year old computer repairman than she did. His parents sent him to college to become a doctor. But the former computer repairman figured that he could earn more than most doctors by making the leap from repairing computers to mass producing them, on a "made to order" basis.

Basically, sports created a "level playing field" among universities. A non-Ivy League College like the Universities of Alabama or Texas could make a name for itself in the sports arena, thereby contributing to American achievement, if not academics.

American education has adopted (Britishers) Herbert Spencer's dictum: "The aim of education is not knowledge but action."

Tom Au

Posted 2014-01-30T19:18:24.363

Reputation: 4 707


I'm going to start here with a disclaimer, This is my opinion based on how I think it came about. I have no references except life experience from which to draw this opinion.

To me, sports teams came about because they needed to tire out their students. A large group of young people with nothing to do except study need an outlet. If all they did was sit in their chair and study all day, students would become restless. Restless powder kegs of young people developing world views is not good for stability. Provide a healthy distraction that keeps people fit and active. If you aren't a member of the teams at least you can go out, get some fresh air, watch and play vicariously.

Sports also provide a method by which people goal oriented can be motivated to remain strong and healthy; similar to Shaolin monks developing their exercises to enable them to stay awake during religious lectures(sounds like college to me).

Once these sports teams were in place, a desire for organization and status essentially lead to formation of leagues and regulations. Arms race capitalism happens and here we are today.

Also, above people mention there are places in Europe, far from everyone else that make due without sports teams. To put some sizes in perspective, Penn State, mentioned above, in the city State College, is in the center of Pennsylvania and surrounded by barely populated farm country. Pennsylvania as a "state"(technically, commonwealth), is literally half the size of the United Kingdom. If you were on that campus back when the school was founded back in the 1850s, there was really nothing to do and no where to go.

my 2 cents, thanks for reading.


Posted 2014-01-30T19:18:24.363

Reputation: 1

3Only a small percentage of students on a college campus play for their college sports team. If the goal was to "tire out students", that would have been done with mandatory gym classes, not organized sports teams. If the end goal is to provide an outlet, why bus 12 people 350 miles or more, instead of having them play in their own gym? – J.R. – 2014-02-02T00:24:28.643