College sports in the U.S are an ever-evolving and growing market. Future, current and previous students represent and love their college’s sports team with all their hearts. Football stadiums are packed and loud, and student sections at basketball and hockey games are electric, but the same can’t be said for universities and colleges in Canada.
College athletes love their former programs so greatly that they provide a lot of the funding for their college teams. Eric Ciccolini, a forward on the University of Michigan’s ice hockey team and a New York Rangers prospect talked about how the alumni support their former programs “what separates it is the money that is put in and the alumni that help fund the schools as well. There is so much money given to the athletic programs that provide them with the best facilities and make sure the athletes can reach their goals for the future.” This allows college sports to put out the best possible product.
March Madness dominates sports viewership during its three-week tournament. Saturday for many Americans is spent watching college football. Lots of meaning and significance are put behind these schools to have top-tier sports teams and programs. It even stems from the high school game, most notably basketball. Canada’s best athletes in basketball, football, and baseball almost all head over to America to play in college. The question that never gets answered is why doesn’t Canada promote their college sports or get the attention the Americans do.
American colleges know how to plan events. Football is played once a week, on Saturdays. Students can throw tailgates before the game, then the game is played in the afternoon which allows students to celebrate the win later in the day. They create an incredible atmosphere for the students to enjoy which makes attending the games a great experience. The average college football game in America has an attendance record of 39,848. The environment that they create is an addition to the quality of the athletes playing the sport.
A big factor that goes into American college sports being more popular than Canadian universities and colleges is that basketball, football, and baseball are more popular in the US. They’ve had a massive head start in developing programs and paths to their professional leagues. Though going to play in the NCAA isn’t the only path to playing in professional leagues, at times many athletes may feel that’s the only way, especially for football. The NBA in recent years has opened more avenues with growing popularity to play overseas in Europe or Asia and the new G League Ignite. Baseball is very popular in many places like the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and Venezuela, but for North American players, American colleges are almost the only way to be scouted. Football and the NFL get nearly all their fans from North America which gives upcoming players only one option. Besides the NFL, the only other leagues in North America that have some marketability are the Canadian Football League and the XFL.
Canada needs to do a lot of catching up if they want to attract more athletes to play college sports in Canada. Not only has Canada been behind in college sports and development, but they are still a ways behind in high school development even with some of the new programs that have been created.
Recently in Ontario, high schools have introduced programs that allow students to focus on their athletics but still complete the work they need to do to graduate high school. This is a nice step into creating avenues for Canadian athletes to develop their skills locally and this is evident now more than ever as Canada has never seen as many Canadian players in the NBA and NFL.
Ciccolini was the beneficiary of the High Performance Athlete (HPA) program that was implemented in some York Region District School Board schools.
Ciccolini attended Holy Cross Catholic Academy for his final year in high school when the HPA program was in its first year and had this to say about how it helped him, “the athletic program was really helpful for me because it gave me a chance to focus on school and have lots of time to train for hockey as well. I was able to get extra training every day once I was done with school that I did not have at the past school I was at prior to my final year of high school.”
Canada’s direction into developing more homegrown athletes in other sports besides hockey is effective. The next tough challenge ahead is giving these athletes a place to play in Canada once they finish high school.
When asked about what separates the popularity and fandom of college sports in America and Canada, Ciccolini said “what separates it is the money that is put in and the alumni that help fund the schools as well. There is so much money that helps the athletic programs get the best facilities and make sure the athletes can reach their goals for the future and which is why it makes it so popular to fans watching college sports. The university’s alumni are also an important factor as they have a big influence on helping in growing college sports and giving back to their respective universities as well.”
If Canada ever wants their universities and colleges to develop athletes and have the popularity colleges in America have, an immense amount of money, time and planning are going to have to be put into that process.