The basics
THE USA: Once you arrive

Football culture in the US

Playing for or supporting your college football team is not only a gargantuan part of the American college experience, but an important rite of passage. For Americans, college football is far more than just a game.

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Humankind has long been united and divided by the love of sport. In America, your football colours signify more than your postcode: they show where you’re from, where you went to school or what community you believe in. Your college football team is more than just a point of discussion by the water-cooler.

It’s no secret that Americans are football-crazy. Professional football games are televised five days a week, and both collegiate and NFL games receive continued coverage during the off-season.

 

College vs. Professional

But infatuation with college football outstrips that even of the national league at times. Several college football stadiums can hold over 100,000 fans, an NFL capacity matched only by a stadium currently in construction in Arlington, Texas, that will play home to the Dallas Cowboys. These are often the darlings of campus tours and really wow visiting students (especially those from abroad who may not be used to such spectacles). So what is it exactly about college football that gets Americans all hot and bothered?

Televised across the country, engagement with college football is a key, communal cultural experience. When you support your school’s team, whether you’re American or not you’re automatically thrust into a shared event that has no entry requirements except attendance at your school.

 

School spirit

School spirit is something Americans are proud to wear on their sleeves. You can buy almost anything with your school’s logo on it, and what’s more, it’s not uncool to tote it proudly. And this sense of community doesn’t fade once you graduate: your college is more than just where you got your degree, it has a personality, a character; and is considered an irrevocable part of your being for years to come.

Going to a football game is a social ritual in itself. Before a game, football fans share food and drink in the parking lot outside the stadium, so-called ‘tailgating’ as the festivities’ spoils emerge from the tail ends of their cars. During the game, both teams have a cheer squad to help get people riled up; and if that’s not enough, at half-time there’s usually a performance by the school’s marching band.

The sport itself is also quite exciting: high-contact, fast paced and relatively contact-intensive. For another, there’s the adrenaline rush tied to being involved in such a spectacle. Weekly games turn out thousands of enthusiasts, all decked out in their colours and ready to scream until they’re hoarse. This zeal is infectious, and it’s impossible not to get swept up in all the excitement.

 

College superstars

The stakes for college athletes themselves are also quite high. Notwithstanding the immense pressure to make their supporters proud, games are known to draw recruitment scouts for professional leagues (plus many are attending that university on a football scholarship, so if they don’t play, it can affect their enrolment status too). However this just shows how much value universities place on attracting the best players in high school, to come play for them.

The athletes even become mini-celebrities on campus, with their achievements on the field being celebrated wherever they go. For these student athletes, juggling their studies with their football commitments shapes them into organised, confident young adults.

 

What college football represents

But the real kicker is what football represents in the hearts of most Americans. College football invites personal emotional attachment to your team as it is tied to a specific institution: your school. Whether student or alumni, you feel a sense of nostalgic ownership over your team that the world of NFL simply cannot satisfy.

Above all, every element of the college football is inherently social. Whether working as a team, working to create and implement game plans or screaming from the sidelines, no part of American football can be made to work with just one person. And it is this sense of unity and inclusion that has pushed college football from being simply a sport to a cultural phenomenon.

 

Take in a college football game as part of the American university experience soon, and find a course in the US now.

 

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About Author

Monica Karpinski received her BA (Media and Communications) and Diploma in Modern Languages (French) from the University of Melbourne, Australia. An art and culture aficionado, in her spare time Monica enjoys film, reading and writing about art.

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