March Madness: Going Behind the Scenes with America’s Fascination with College Athletics
The United States is a sports-mad country, proudly cheering on their football, basketball and baseball players (and sometimes hockey players, too, depending on the state). But there's a special interest paid to athletics at the collegiate level -- why?
Sense of Community
In the big leagues, there are either 30 (NBA, NHL, MLB) or 32 (NFL) teams, but 50 states. This inevitably leaves out some states from enjoying sports at the professional level. Some states, like New York and California, have multiple teams, while others, like Alaska and Hawaii, have none. But there are colleges and/or universities in every state, which gives the residents a handful of teams to choose from when it comes to cheering one on.
While collegiate sports may not be as important in the bigger, more densely populated states (again, New York), it matters a lot in the smaller towns and states. It's a way of bringing people together and finding local heroes to support, and the small-town feel only intensifies it.
Athletes Aren't Overpaid Millionaires
The minimum salary in each of the four pro leagues is:
- NHL: $525,000
- NBA: $490,180 (for the 2013/2014 year, based on 0 years of experience)
- NFL: $102,000 (based on being on the practice squad for the entire season, at a minimum of $6,000/week)
- MLB: $500,000 (for the 2014 season)
These salaries, awarded just for making the cut, are wages the average person can't even dream of. But college players on the other hand only get a stipend, and usually in addition to a full ride scholarship. There's a bit of sympathizing with the athlete who shines every week and pulls in millions for his or her respective university, but only sees a tiny fraction of that in return. They're seen as "pure" athletes who play for love of the game, not lure of the almighty dollar.
Rivalries Are Easily Created
Athletes in the big leagues get traded constantly, and it's pretty rare to find one playing for the city he or she grew up in. College athletes, meanwhile, may not be guaranteed to always play for their state, but it's a lot likelier.
They also don't get "traded" or switch schools very often, giving their fans four years of relationship building that's not seen as often in the pros. A star like AJ McCarron or Johnny Manziel become athletes to both rally around and support, and they're everywhere; in the pros, a mainstay like Mariano Rivera or Joe Montana just don't come around that often.
Don't Blame Canada, Blame the Media
College sports in Canada aren't covered to nearly the same extent as they are here, which makes sense when considering our neighbors' sports' net worths. But in the United States, college games are a big deal, with tournaments getting nationally televised (March Madness, any of the big Bowl games).
Athletes are interviewed from an early age, but the spotlight really intensifies once they "turn college" and their supporters want to hear what comes out of their mouths. This cycle is perpetuated until it's become what it is today, which is a huge, slickly operated entertainment machine that gives almost everywhere exactly what they want.
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