Every Saturday, college towns are proudly draped in their university’s colors. There is a buzz in the air as the student body anticipates kick off, and after the glow of the stadium lights fade, talk of the NCAA’s most popular sport is heard in student unions across the nation.
College football is a multi-billion dollar industry that drives television stations, apparel companies and small-town businesses. The effects of college football are most often seen in profit margins, but the effects on campus culture can be even more telling.
For some, football prestige is a factor when choosing a university. The Saturday games many kids grow up watching are often the best and most predominant form of advertising to potential students. Kelsey Lloyd, a senior at the University of Texas, said she grew up watching the Longhorns on Saturdays.
“Watching the Longhorns and sporting a burnt-orange T-shirt definitely had an impact on my choice of school,” she said. “I couldn’t be happier to experience the games as a student now and cheer on my school with pride.”
According to the NCAA website, Division I universities had an average attendance over 46,000 in 2011, but college football does more than just bring people together. South Carolina University senior Chris Kelly said college football has the ability to unify the student body.
“You don’t see school pride displayed more than on a Saturday in fall,” Kelly said. “The entire student body is decked out in school colors, everyone is physically in the same place, and we’re all cheering for the same result; that doesn’t happen during the week or even at other athletic events.”
A Gallup Poll from 2008 showed football as the commanding leader in sports in America, with 41% considering football their favorite sport to watch. Baseball, the “national pastime,” was second with 10%.
Kelly said while he has attended many other athletic events, they don’t capture the same atmosphere created during the buildup to a college football game.
“I’ve really enjoyed going to baseball, basketball and other games, but football is different,” Kelly said. “The town stops during football weekends, alumni pour into town and everything is focused on the school and the game. Football is what everyone looks forward to in the summer and misses in the spring.”
However, many students around the nation do not attend a university with a football program. Believe it or not, football is not the primary reason for going to college.
A small university offers many benefits that larger universities cannot. CollegeView reported that small class sizes, individually designed majors, cost of tuition and a strong sense of community are all leading factors for why prospective students may choose smaller universities.
JP Malone attended Dallas Baptist University (DBU) in 2011, a school with fewer than 6,000 undergraduates and no football program. Malone said that while the lack of a football team made having school spirit challenging, the student body was still unified as one.
“A small student body allowed for a more intimate community, where everybody knew everybody,” Malone said. “Because social life took a little more effort than at a larger school, the friends you made tended to be of a high caliber.
“The pace on campus was very slow, as a result of oftentimes having nothing to do,” he said. “The alternative was people enjoying a heightened sense of community, sitting around talking to each other or impromptu pick-up games of football or basketball. Honestly, it sometimes felt like being a kid back at summer camp.”
While attending a small university has the added benefit of a family-like atmosphere, having pride in your university can be a challenge with out an on-campus football team to root for.
Taylor Kelley, a senior at DBU, said that while students get enthusiastic about basketball, baseball and volleyball games, it seems like there is something missing without tailgating and football. Kelley said he is envious of universities, even small ones, that boast football programs.
Despite not having games to go to on Saturday, Kelley said DBU and other small universities have made an effort to unite the student body and display school spirit.
“We make our own school pride by hosting all-school events like midnight madness, pep rallies and school skit competitions,” Kelley said.
“School spirit at DBU comes to us differently than bigger schools,” Kelley added. “I feel like we have to try harder as a school to find pride compared to large universities where school spirit comes naturally through their football games.”
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