Can India replicate the American College sport system?

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Can India replicate the American College sport system?

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Manu S Jagan

01/25/2017

In America, the collegiate sports exists as a substitute to the youth system followed by the Europeans. With their own governing bodies and cash rich competitive leagues, college sports thrive on a scale almost equal to that of its professional counterpart. Will such a system work in India?

With 100,000 screaming youths in a packed stadium in Michigan, a hand full of fans in the midst of a blue and yellow Mexican wave strategically held out placards to form the letters of the team. A man dressed in a blue mascot suit ran wildly across the field holding aloft his team’s flag. This was no professional team playing in any prestigious club competition, but the Michigan University’s American football team playing at home, in USA’s largest stadium measured by seating capacity.

College sport’s history dates back to the 1850’s when the boat clubs of Yale and Harvard University decided to compete against each other. With bat and ball games soon becoming a part of the competition, this friendly rivalry between two universities soon grew into a full-fledged tournament with universities from all over the country playing a yearlong schedule.

Today college sports in America receives the same attention as the NFL, MLB or NBA. Run by qualified professionals, with games hosted in excellent infrastructure with state of the art facilities and cash-rich corporates backing the show, college sports act as a feeder to the professional leagues. Players in the college system are treated like stars in a professional league, the only difference being scholarships for tuition and living allowance replacing the wages.

The Big Advantage

1.    Debt free College Education – A 2012 survey conducted by National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), the college level sport governing body in USA found that only 2% of college athletes actually make it to a professional level. With odds so steeply stacked against them, it might see students discouraged from pursuing sports. Hence there has to be some sort of benefit that is to be given to a student in order to pursue sports. Could the answer be a debt-free college education?

Today an average student in the US graduates from college with a student debt of around $30,000. With such a burden on their backs, students are forced to focus on academics and give up on sports as a profession where 98% of them are not going to make it as professionals. However, when the superstar wages players are provided a degree instead, it motivates a sportsperson to pursue the sport they so desire and in the process earn a college degree which they could use to find alternate means of living if they do not become a sporting professional.

Bigger Sports Industry – The existence of a college-based sports system has created a whole new sports industry that creates more jobs and more avenues. With players of college level sports being treated like stars in the professional sport, brands in merchandising and beverage companies are more than willing to sponsor teams and players often agreeing on multi-million dollar deals that make some of these teams almost as rich as their professional counterparts.

When such a large sum of money is being pumped in, the teams look to ensure their performance is as good if not better than their previous year. In order to maintain the same quality of performance, there is a professional team of support staff that works tirelessly in the background, right from a top quality coach, marketing professionals to professional scouts and an analytics team. This creates a lot of jobs at the university team level that allows some of the sportspersons who are unable to play professionally to contribute to the sport in another way.

Robust Sports Infrastructure – US gains excellent sports infrastructure built by various universities and college teams. Some of the largest sports arenas in USA belong to sports teams of educational institutions such as University of Michigan, and Pennsylvania State University. With excellent facilities and infrastructure made available right from the developmental stage, participants are already tuned to function in a completely professional sports environment with the guidance and equipment’s necessary to reach the peak of their performance.

Drawbacks

With University Sports gaining a lot of popularity, there are always drawbacks that come along with its benefits. One drawback is the diversion of funds from academic departments to sports. Although university sports are big revenue earners as well as an integral part of the university itself, it shouldn’t come at the cost of other departments in the university. Institutions are established to cater to the needs of students pursuing law, arts or science as much as it caters to sports personnel. However, off late Colleges in the US have been seen diverting funds meant for other departments towards sports leaving other departments starved for funds.

The current system also proves to be a disadvantage to students who excel both in sports as well as academics. It has been reported that players are often forced by coaches to pick courses that are less taxing from an academic point of view so that they have more time to devote to sports. This causes some of the players to study subjects that they probably are not interested in. Such a situation might be dreadful for the student if they were not able to make it as a professional sportsperson as they would end up confined to an industry which might be quite difficult for them to fit into. When it comes to the other students who are not a part of the sports program, the burden of a subsidising education for the sports personnel is usually loaded on the tuition fees of  other students, leading to a very high cost of education. If college sports do make a lot of money, they are generally reinvested into the sporting system and do not benefit the student community of the university as a whole.

The outrageous salaries that sports coaches earn easily outweigh some of the most intellectually gifted professors in the university by a margin that is questionable. Some of the best coaches heading football teams part of the Big 10 league easily make an average of 2 to 3 million dollars as salaries. The distribution of budget questions the very existence of some of these institutions as educational hubs. Sports has become the new public face of some of these universities which seem to have caused a massive imbalance. The worry earlier was the lack of sports, which is now turning to a situation where there is too much sport.

Benefits for India

A college based sporting system could be an apt avenue to convert our country into a nation excelling in sports. Our current focus on academics is mainly due to the fact that sports as a career option comes only at the cost of sacrificing studies. With professional sports, apart from cricket and more recently football, paying almost no money in professional environment, sport is often reduced to be practiced as a hobby rather than being pursued as a profession.

Introduction of a collegiate sports system in India could ensure people who pursue sports are given the opportunity to obtain a college degree, thus eliminating the fear of lack of an alternate career option. Sports such as Hockey, Basketball and Kabaddi would have a well-established league in a collegiate system that would not only fuel our Olympic teams, but also give the nation a steady supply of skilled sportsmen to professional leagues thus improving the overall quality of our national as well as local talent.

Today there are close to 700 Universities in India and all of them competing with one another to obtain a large number enrolments. Some of the wealthier institutions market themselves by publishing advertisements on print media as well as television advertisements. These ads come at a very high cost and probably isn’t the reason why most students enrol in a university to study. However, if these funds were to be spent on providing good sports infrastructure and professional coaches, the Universities could compete against each other in various sporting events and contribute towards the nation’s sports frontier as well as gain publicity by performing well in competitions and getting mentioned in news media.

One of the biggest threats of starting a new sports league in India is the uncertainty of gaining a committed audience. However, in a collegiate sports system, students and alumni of the respective university can be the committed audience attending the games on a regular basis with their friends and family members roped in to tag along. Hence with a little bit of marketing, these University teams can gain a more loyal following and develop steady fan base for some of the lesser known sports. The American Collegiate Sports structure would indeed be an excellent role model for India to follow in establishing college sports system to nourish all sports in our nation.

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