College sports are hugely popular in the United States and there are a number of reasons for that. Firstly, most of the best professional athletes in the professional games went through the college system where they learned their crafts.
Draft systems picked up the cream of college talent and many have made lasting impressions on the NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL and more.
With millions tuning in to the biggest college games, there has to be more to it and each sport is a popular entity in its own right. The students attract a vast audience in the US but can the same be said across the border in Canada?
The easy answer to that question would involve an unequivocal ‘no’: While college sports in the United States are big business in their own right, the interest up in Canada doesn’t even come close.
In Canada, the university scene is referred to as USports and there are clear differences to its NCAA counterpart in the United States. Financial input is one reason why the two can’t really be compared: College games in the US attract billions of dollars in revenue through TV rights, advertising and direct sponsorship.
Canadian sport simply cannot compete: There is talent in the divisions but it’s not at the level of college athletes in the United States and that’s one of the reasons for a lack of interest. A higher population with a greater interest in sport will also keep continuing to drive TV audiences.
Lack of Incentives
The draft system in the United States provides obvious incentives for the best college athletes. It is a well-defined path and one which has developed the vast majority of top talent in the NFL, NHL and other top divisions.
In Canada, the incentive to progress isn’t quite the same. The Canadian Football League (CFL) has a loyal following, but it is smaller in structure and will never attract the same interest as the NFL.
The top college footballers in Canada can progress to the CFL but they cannot expect the same earnings as those south of the border. Canadian footballers have featured in the NFL but they are rare beasts.
In other sports, Canada have representatives in the NBA, NHL and MLB so there is a path to follow. The road to riches isn’t necessarily blocked for Canadian college athletes but it’s a tough one to negotiate.
External, associated businesses also pay far more attention to College Sports in the United States than they ever will in Canada. Among those who follow the NCAA are the sportsbooks and, while College football betting in the US attract the most attention, there are options for all core sports.
The sports betting industry brings in more revenue to the sport which can help develop colleges and their athletes. In many parts of the world, betting companies directly sponsor teams and we’ve seen that start to happen in the US since regulations were relaxed in 2018.
Betting legislation in Canada has traditionally allowed for a more open landscape but it’s rare to see markets for the CFL. Only the fiercely loyal Canadian sportsbooks quote odds and the country’s college sports attract zero coverage.
Work to be Done
It’s impossible to see Canadian college sports ever being placed on the same level as the United States’ system but there are ways in which the students can progress. It can be argued that US franchise teams tend to rely on their own young talent and will only bring in players from outside the country when they’ve gained some experience.
As a result, there may be a tendency for the best Canadian college footballers, hockey players, basketball players and baseball players to fall ‘under the radar’. With teams from Canada playing in many US top divisions, there are options but they are limited.
The NBA is a good example of this and, while there are 30 franchise teams involved in the association, the Toronto Raptors are Canada’s sole representatives.
Perhaps a better scouting system would benefit the Canadian college athletes. It may be unfair to say that the students are ignored here but more attention to the best players would help to avoid a talent drain.
Canada shouldn’t necessarily be looking to the United States for a helping hand but the system needs some external assistance if it’s going to develop. In contrast, it’s fair to say that the colleges in the US will continue to grow without any help from outside.
There is simply a greater demand for college sports in the United States. The players are better, the teams are better and there is an audience of many millions who take in the action week after week.