Sports Basics in 5 Minutes
This article is for people who are new to watching
college sports. A heavy emphasis is placed on
the top two NCAA Division I spectator sports:
men’s football and men’s basketball.
The NCAA (pronounced “N-C-Double-A”)
is the major organizing body for sports in college.
Within the NCAA, there are three divisions: Division
I (often called DI- pronounced “D-One”),
Division II (DII, “D-Two”),
and Division III (DIII, “D-Three”).
The divisions are determined mainly by the size
of the school, with larger schools competing in
DI. The NCAA organizes 88 total championships
each year (10 across all divisions, 26 DI, 25
DII, and 27 DIII). The NCAA includes better-known
sports, such as football, baseball, and basketball,
as well as other sports, such as gymnastics, wrestling,
and lacrosse. DI is the most competitive level
of play and schools with teams in DI attract the
best student athletes from across the country
(and around the world, in some cases).
Within DI sports, teams are further divided into
conferences. Teams compete mostly against other
teams in their conference. Typically, a conference
champion is declared for each sport, either through
a play-off or tournament near the end of the season.
Major DI conferences include the Atlantic Coast
Conference (ACC), Big East, Big 10, Big 12, Conference
USA, Mid-American, Mountain West, Pacific 10 (Pac-10),
Southeastern Conference (SEC), Sun Belt, and the
Western Athletic Conference (WAC, pronounced “Wack”).
While all college sports can be fun to watch,
men’s DI football and basketball attract
the most fans. People unfamiliar with American
college sports often don’t grasp the fan
base for men’s football and basketball.
Football games draw tens of thousands of fans
(UCLA’s Rose Bowl stadium seats over 90,000
people), and often many spectators arrive at the
stadium hours before the game to tailgate (pre-game
barbeques near the stadium with food and drinks).
Millions more spectators watch college football
on national TV. College basketball stadiums seat
fewer fans (UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion seats
up to 13,000), but basketball games are more frequent
than football games.
Each school usually has one major rival that is
typically in the same conference and is in close
geographic proximity. Rivalries can be fierce.
The best comparison for foreigners is regional
professional soccer rivalries. In the Pac-10,
major rivalries include UCLA vs. USC, CAL vs.
Stanford, Arizona vs. Arizona State, Oregon vs.
Oregon State, and Washington vs. Washington State.
Other famous rivalries outside the PAC-10 include
Michigan vs. Ohio State, Army vs. Navy, and Alabama
College Football: [click
here to learn more about football rules and basics]
Throughout the season, there are both conference
and non-conference (in which a team plays other
teams outside its conference) football games.
All games count toward a team’s overall
record. Winning the conference is important, but
the ultimate goal is to be selected to a bowl
game. Bowl games are the most prestigious and
most highly watched games at the end of the season.
To be eligible for a bowl game, teams must finish
the season with an overall winning record (more
wins than losses). In total, there are just over
30 bowl games, but the best bowl games include
the four Bowl Championship Series (BCS) games.
The BCS Bowls are the Rose Bowl, Sugar Bowl, Orange
Bowl, and Fiesta Bowl.
Each year, the game that determines the “national
champion” rotates between the four BCS bowls.
The system for determining who will compete in
this national championship game is complicated
and controversial. College football is the only
sport in the NCAA that doesn’t use a play-off
game to determine the winner. The best explanation
for this is tradition and money: bowl games have
a long history and generate enormous revenue for
the schools, conferences, and advertisers. A computerized
ranking system, known as the BCS rankings, attempts
to match up the top two teams in the country.
The BCS system is confusing, but it involves several
factors, including national polls and strength
of schedule, to determine the rankings. Other
bowl games are determined by ranking, conference,
match-ups, number of spectators, potential revenue,
and several other factors.
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Basketball Championship: [click
here to learn more about basketball rules and
More information will be posted before the start
of the upcoming basketball season.
Most NCAA team championships
Oklahoma State- 48
Most Football Championships since 1901
Notre Dame- 13
Recent Football Champions
2003 USC & LSU
2002 Ohio State
2001 Miami FL
Most Basketball Championships
North Carolina- 4
Recent Basketball Champions
Florida (def. UCLA)
UNC (def. Illinois)
UConn (def. Georgia Tech)
Syracuse (def. Kansas)
Maryland (def. Indiana)
Duke (def. Arizona)
Michigan State (def. Florida)