Could British Universites Learn From American College Sports?

Steven GreenContributor IOctober 25, 2010

CARSON, CA - OCTOBER 24:  The FC Dallas starting XI pose for a group photo prior to the MLS match against the Los Angeles Galaxy on October 24, 2010 in Carson, California. The Galaxy defeated FC Dallas 2-1. (Photo by Victor Decolongon/Getty Images)
Victor Decolongon/Getty Images

Now in its second full year British Universities & Colleges Sport (BUCS for short) are preparing for another busy season with over 4000 teams competing in over 16 different sports. Despite having 157 universities under its jurisdiction, but ask around and you’ll be surprised at the number of people who had no idea who BUCS were, which in turn gets you thinking about the problems with grass roots sports in the UK.

College sports exist in a number of countries across the world but nowhere is it as highly regarded as it is in the United States. One of the reasons for this is the role college sports play in the hierarchy of sports organization. In essence, intercollegiate sport serves as a feeder system to the professional level, as the elite athletes are chosen to compete at the highest stage. This system is unique to the states as most other countries in the world generally have government funded sports organizations that serve as a feeder system into the professional game.

Like BUCS, the organisation in America is the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA.) Although ran in a similar way the differences are stark. The NCAA holds television rights with stations like CBS Sports and ESPN, also counting AT&T, Coca-Cola and Hershey’s as subsidiaries. BUCS are in association with Nike but that only accumulates in a discount on team kit.

In recent years, a debate has arisen over whether college athletes should be paid or not, with the extremely high professional sports salaries in today’s world, it has been argued that college athletes should be treated similarly. College athletes help generate a large amount of revenue for their school, but are not personally rewarded for their contribution. Instead, this money is distributed among administrators, coaches, media and other parties. However, college athletes are given a full scholarship to their respective school and benefit from perks that the general student body does not receive. These scholarships are rarely available in the UK but an American athlete can receive up to $100,000 in total, so essentially they are already being paid for their participation.

The only universities in the UK that even come close to offering something like that are Loughborough and Bath. Loughborough’s offer is the more generous with £3,000 toward course fees, £1,000 toward living expenses, £250 for memberships and free parking around the campus, but that’s just one university out of hundreds. Loughborough are a consistent name at the top of the BUCS league tables and the fact that they’re the only ones doing something like this is a testament to the results it can bare.

The question is; could we take a leaf out of the Americans book? Sure there are pros and cons. In America there is no equivalent to the championship or leagues 1 and 2 meaning a player who doesn’t quite make the grade can’t drop down a division to carve a career for himself. Yet if the athlete leaves college without making the step up in America, he has a full college education to his name, a valuable commodity whoever you are. A degree for a successful athlete also means they’ll most likely have something to fall back on once their playing days are over, people who are familiar with players like Paul Gascoigne and Gary Charles will attest to that.

A reason we can’t do it like they do is down to money or its lack of it, with the government cutting university programmes every year it is unlikely that there’ll be a change in the way things are done anytime soon, if ever, but it’s something that should be genuinely looked into, raising the standards of university sports and generating revenue from television packages. Having said that though if it didn’t work out it could all go ITV Digital, creating problems that would be incredibly difficult to fix.

Certainly it is worth the government looking into, with the potential for some major revenue to be generated it could save some universities from having to cut courses, maybe after the Olympics it’ll be something David Cameron will look into but until then it’ll have to remain an afterthought.