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If you have a talent, passion or even just an interest in a sport, it’s likely that your university will have numerous opportunities for you to participate at whichever level suits you best. Common varsity sports teams include American football, basketball, soccer (UK football), baseball (men), softball (women), field and ice hockey, swimming, golf, wrestling, cross country, track and field (UK athletics) and tennis. Other British sports such as cricket or rugby may be played at the club or intramural level, and access to gyms and swimming pools means you’ll have the opportunity to keep fit.
Many US universities, especially larger state institutions, have long traditions in sports at the varsity and junior varsity (JV) levels. Athletes who compete in varsity sports are usually recruited by the university team in the year or two prior to admission and receive scholarships to participate in the sport, although some students do manage to join the team as “walk-on” players after completing try-outs. Varsity is the highest level of competition between universities across the country and is for the most serious athletes. JV athletes also participate in nation-wide competitions but are less likely to receive scholarships, depending on the university and the division (league) it competes in.
Most universities will allow students to attend games for free, by swiping their ID card, so be sure to take advantage of this opportunity!
Students who have an interest or talent in a sport but cannot or choose not to compete at the varsity level can still compete through club teams. Club teams also compete against other universities, usually within the same region. While they will get some financial support for kit, transport to games and space to play on campus, club athletes do not receive scholarships for participating.
Students who have varying levels of experience in a sport and want to participate on a less formal and more social level can get involved in intramural sports. Here students form their own teams, usually through the university’s recreational sports programme, and compete against other teams from the same university for a few weeks out of the year. This is the least competitive level of sports in university and a great way to make friends!
Students who do not want to participate in an organised team sport but still want to stay active and healthy can use university gyms, pools, exercise equipment, tracks and even take classes on anything from martial arts to bowling to dancing. Almost all of these facilities are open long hours and on many campuses are free for student use with your student ID card. Do take advantage of the sports facilities your school has to offer; you’ll be thankful for the gym as it will help you de-stress after tackling a heavy workload.
Some of your most memorable university moments could be attending sporting events (such as Homecoming matches), especially at universities with a long tradition of excellence at varsity sports. American football games are attended by tens of thousands of students and alumni who often gather hours before the game to tailgate — barbeque hamburgers, hotdogs and other typical foods — in parking lots outside near the field or sports complex. Many universities have accomplished marching bands that provide entertainment during the game and at half-time, and cheerleaders lead fans in university-specific cheers, chants and songs. Depending on the university, the level of athletic involvement and student support, students will dress up, paint their faces (and sometimes stomachs!) and treat sports competitions like social events. This is most common at basketball and American football games, although this depends on the university.
Depending on your location, you may be able to find tickets for professional sporting events, which will broaden your cultural understanding of American sport. If you live in a bigger city, there will probably be an arena where the city’s professional sport teams play. Depending on the time of year, seat location in the arena and the popularity of the team, ticket prices will vary. Witnessing the excitement and pride of a city’s supporters will make it worthwhile to attend even if you sit in the highest seats. Check out the NBA, NFL, NHL, MLS and MLB websites for more information.