Image courtesy of Kent Sport | Facebook
After spending a year studying in America, I realised how different the two systems are. There were some things that lived up to the clichés. For instance, every party I went to somehow ended with a dance battle. Although I did not join a clique or sorority, they are very much a thing.
One thing I did not expect to be so different was sports. They differed dramatically, from ways of playing, to ways to becoming a player, to ways of running a club. Everything was the opposite of how we approach sports in England.
I recently became aware that the university I attended – George Mason University – made $18,529,975 in revenue from sports alone. Initially, these figures may seem shocking, but realistically they are minor in comparison to other universities in America. My university was not particularly high up in the ranks, but this did not stop them from playing sport as if it were a premier league team.
By far the biggest difference was scale. As painted by the media, everything in America is bigger. A basketball stadium on campus with a capacity of 10,000 is more than larger in comparison to the humble sports halls here at University of Kent.
With the difference in size, came an entirely new experience of school spirit. The university’s “fight song” was often the highlight of the evenings, and the backing music to the tensest games of the season. The thousands of fans singing along also gave the somewhat cheesy tune a battle anthem feel.
However, 10,000 people in a stadium does not quite compare to the rush of Varsity at UKC. At George Mason, the basketball stars were often held to star-like status on campus. Despite not having a high-ranking American football team; I could only imagine the praise these players must have received at universities such as Ohio State or the University of Alabama. Whilst there are some incredible athletes across America playing at the university level, they became more like figures of the university as opposed to fellow students.
Amongst my favourites has to be the salt and pepper shakers, the Mount Rushmore paper weight with the Top 4 scorers, with what felt like hundreds of university t-shirts. This is unimaginable at an event like Varsity, but it has not hindered its success at UKC one bit. I have found that the best part of watching some sports is watching someone you know. The win feels more personal.
You are more aware of the sacrifices these players had to make to ensure they always attended training and never missed a Wednesday match. You know they pulled an all-nighter or squeeze an extra training session before Varsity to perfect a skill. This is what makes Varsity so much fun.
It would be remiss not to mention the most important aspect of the entire event – the rivalry of UKC and Canterbury Christ Church University (CCCU) rivalry. There is shared pride in winning Varsity that wasn’t quite the same when the scale was upped in America. The games are tight and intense, without a doubt the highlight of the sporting year. In comparison, if your university did not make it to the national playoffs, the season was pretty much over in a couple of months.
Arguably, the entire experience is hard to define as you are forced to compare two completely different entities. Sport in America appeared to be more of a career stepping stone for many of the higher-level athletes/ The student run societies at UKC encompass a lot more than just the sports themselves.
There are benefits to both. Playing your sport to thousands, hearing them chant your name and potentially being known across the country is an opportunity many players in the UK dream of. In comparison, there are far fewer pressures. Players are forced to balance getting a degree, playing a sport and becoming a quasi-celebrity from the age of 18. In the end it comes down to preference. Although, I wouldn’t be able to tell you which was better, I think that both should be experienced if you have the opportunity to do so.
This article is part of our one-off edition of IQ Magazine, out from November the 29th 2019. Pick up the magazine on campus in our InQuire distribution bins in Keynes, Co-op, the Templeman library and other locations on campus.