The vibe around Louisville, Kentucky is the same as it is every year when their local university’s basketball team brings in a nationally regarded, conference opponent.
Tense, electric, on-edge.
University of Louisville forward, Adel Deng, lays the ball into the University of North Carolina basket and the 21, 210 packed into the KFC Yum! Center erupt as they cut the deficit to seven.
The crowd remains standing as North Carolina’s, Joel Berry II, carries the ball into Louisville territory with 3:51 remaining, seeing nothing but white from the crowd and hearing nothing but “DE-FENSE.”
North Carolina works the ball around for the full 30-second shot clock and Luke Maye heaves one up from three-point range as the shot clock expires…
The ball finds its way through the hoop and regains the Tar Heels ten-point lead with just over three minutes remaining as the Cardinal faithful begin to head for the exits.
Despite dropping a huge home game to a top-15 team in the country and Michael Jordan’s alma mater, it’s difficult to consider Louisville a loser on this night.
The school’s basketball arena was just about at max capacity, 22,000, which holds more than any NBA arena. Just about every Louisville fan in attendance was also rocking white Louisville gear as they hosted their always rowdy and annual, “white-out” game, which sees campus bookstores push out as much white apparel as possible.
Meanwhile, a sell-out for a Durham Lords basketball game would consist of 1,000 people, something many students on campus have never seen.
The main differences between the top U.S. programs to the top ones in Canada comes down to the funding. Not only do schools put all their athletic profits back into athletic facilities and other athletic costs such as travel, they also all receive funding from the NCAA, who generated 995.9-million in revenue in 2016, according to Google. Most of that revenue comes from a 14-year contract with CBS and Turner Broadcast to televise the NCAA’s Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament (March Madness) worth $10.8-billion.
Just about every top Division-I program, no matter the sport, will travel on an airplane to at least one event throughout the year while Canadian teams typically won’t unless they’re attending a national championship. If Canadian university athletic programs racked in over $100-million, like 28 universities in the U.S. did in 2015-2016, they would travel luxuriously as well.
Canadians choose to play collegiate athletics in the U.S. for many different reasons, but funding, money and competition seem to be the main attraction. The top level of the NCAA will put you against the top competition, at the top schools with the top facilities. Not only do they provide these perks, they also provide far more varsity teams than Canada. It’s easy to see why some Canadian athletes may be tempted, but why is it so important that the top athletes compete in U.S. and not Canada?
Canadian female track-star Lanny Marchant ran track at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga for five years until 2007 when she returned to the University of Ottawa. She couldn’t compete in Canada because she was ineligible at that point but it did open her eyes to college athletics on both sides of the border. Like most other athletes who attend a Division-I university from Canada, it was the scholarship that lured her.
“I’m one of seven kids so to get school paid for was a huge bonus,” said Marchant in an interview with CBC.
Marchant says small Division-I schools like hers at the time would compare to some Canadian institutions with high-quality facilities like Western, Guelph and Ottawa. She also noted a lot of the top American athletic programs have facilities on par with the four major professional sporting leagues in America (NHL, MLB, NFL, NBA).
“I feel like the Canadian system has stepped up in general,” added Marchant. “But for a while they weren’t close to any of the big U.S. schools.”
On par and maybe even beyond…
November 25th, 2017, The University of Michigan Wolverines hosted The Ohio State University Buckeyes in a football game that is considered by many as the biggest rivalry in all of sports at Michigan Stadium. The game marked the teams 280th consecutive home game with over 100,000 fans in attendance (team plays about 6-8 home games a year) while not one NFL game in 2017 reached that number.
More so, the 16 biggest football stadiums in America all belong to colleges teams, or a stadium that plays exclusively college games, while the Los Angeles Rams currently share one of those 16 stadiums with the University of Southern California (USC) until their new home is built.
USC students, fans and alumni also had the privilege of watching a young O.J. Simpson tear up that same gridiron in sunny Los Angeles through the 1967 and 1968 seasons.
Other hall-of-famers in their respective sports and considered a few of the best all-time, Michael Jordan and Randy Johnson, both played in the NCAA, just like almost every other American playing professional sports in North America.
At the end of the day, it’s even harder to get Canada excited about it’s college athletics when the best the country has to offer is taking advantage of a better system south of the border. While students don’t mind getting into games free in Canada or at worst paying $25 for national championship games such as the Vanier Cup, they don’t have the ability to watch future professional sports stars’ day in and day out.
There are three levels to the NCAA. Division I, Division II and Division III. And then there’s Junior College (JUCO), also known as community college. 2015 NL MVP Bryce Harper, 2015 NFL MVP Cam Newton, baseball legend Jackie Robinson and Blue Jays favourite, Jose Bautista. All four were JUCO athletes at one point. Even some of their lower levels of college athletics are producing incredible talents.
Even Minnesota Timberwolves star, Jimmy Butler, played JUCO before moving onto a big time basketball university, Marquette University, where a $100 ticket to a big game would be no surprise.
Tell a Canadian that Americans pay over $100 for a college basketball ticket and they may not believe you.
Find a college basketball hot-bed and that same $100 ticket looks dirt cheap, like in Durham, North Carolina, home of the Duke University Blue Devils basketball team.
The average price for a Blue Devils regular season home game in 2013 was $409, according to Forbes, with their rivalry game against North Carolina going for an astronomical average price of $1,728 that same year. It would have cost more money to attend this regular season college hoops game than it would have to attend a World Series baseball game that same year.
Not only do many of the top events go for this price each year and draw in massive crowds, overall through the three levels of the NCAA there are 1,117 schools compared to U-Sports 56 schools.
How can Canada compete with that?
This shows the strength, size and power of the beast that is known as the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA).
Tessa Chad switched from her local high school to The Hill Academy, a high performance athletic high school in Toronto to dedicate more time to field lacrosse (Maple Leaf forward, Mitch Marner also attended this school). She was entering a school that puts players in the same situation she’s in right now. Travelling across America doing what she loves… and even scoring some free tickets to games the public sometimes spend thousands on.
Chad was one of the lucky ones among the 21,210 fans at the Louisville-North Carolina basketball game. Playing women’s lacrosse at Louisville, Chad received a free ticket to the game as most athletes do to their respective school’s sporting events.
It wasn’t just free tickets that enticed her away from Canada as she is on full-ride scholarship which covers pretty much all her costs. These scholarships can easily reach more than $50,000 in worth per year, according to The Varsity.
“Sometimes it’s difficult to consider Canadian schools when there is so much money on the table in the U.S. playing against elite competition,” says Chad.
Chad’s Canadian 2015 gold medal winning team at the U19 Women’s Field Lacrosse World Championships included all Division-I players.
Playing eight of their nine road games in different states this year and not one in-state (Kentucky), Chad’s Louisville Cardinals will have no shortage of time on the road until the season concludes with the national championship in Stonybrook, New York. The women will have their first Final Four without playing at the same venue as the men, like last year when they played at Gillette Stadium, home of the New England Patriots.
Here’s what Louisville women’s lacrosse teams travel schedule looks like this year compared to UOIT’s women’s lacrosse team.
The team’s closest game was 167 kilometres away, in Cincinnati while their furthest is a whopping 1,482 kilometres away in Providence, Rhode Island, or over a 14-hour drive. Good thing the school’s athletic department generated over $112-million in 2015-2016 and can afford to send teams around the country in the sky.
The Cardinals team plays three conference games on the road this year, two in North Carolina and one in New York, for an average of approximately 943 kilometres travelled for a conference game. This would be about the same as travelling from Durham College to Cincinnati, Ohio, about an eight-hour drive. The team will also travel via plane to all three conference games.
As much as it may sound like sunshine and rainbows for Division-I athletes travelling across the country with top notch facilities, some athletes say they are putting in well over 40 hours to their sport per week, according to Business Insider.
“There are obviously some difficulties and challenges as well,” says Chad, “but the experience, travel and memories really do make it all worth it.”
Difficulties and challenges are a couple things you think a freshman would face while headlining a Division-I pitching staff. And the players that are able to do so and excel, bring some things to mind like the possibility of professional baseball.
Lords pitcher Brodie Harkness, began his collegiate career at the University of Evansville in Indiana where he was an all-conference honourable mention, the only pitcher at the school to make the list in 2015.
Harkness returned home after his freshman season to play just a 20-minute drive from home for the Durham Lords.
Harkness went from playing against current Atlanta Braves shortstop and MLB’s first overall pick in 2015, Dansby Swanson of Vanderbilt University, to facing opponents who, for the most part, won’t play very much meaningful baseball beyond their college days.
Harkness says his team in Evansville would practice Monday through Saturday during the fall for at least three hours, plus lift sessions and study hall, amounting to roughly 21-22 total hours dedicated to the baseball team.
The spring, which is college baseball season in the States, was a different story.
“At the maximum we could spend close to 40 hours dedicated to the baseball team and that doesn’t include going to class Monday through Friday,” says Harkness.
They would play games Friday, Saturday, Sunday and once the weather was warmer they began playing some games on Tuesdays and Wednesdays as well. A busy week would consist of five games on top of 2-3 lift sessions, study hall and their classes to attend.
But again, it was the money and competition that persuaded Harkness, just like Chad and Marchant, as he was also on a full-ride scholarship.
“The thought of having my education paid for and playing at a high level of baseball at the same time, it sounded amazing,” explained Harkness.
Harkness reaped the benefits of those long hours put in with Evansville as he’s put together one of the best recent two-year stretches by a Lords pitcher and again, proving how talented you must be to compete well at the Division-I level.
In Harkness’ second year with the Lords he tied the OCAA single-game strikeout record with 13. He dazzled even more this year in his final college campaign as a no-hitter helped the 6-foot-1 lefty earn OCAA Pitcher of the Year.
All those hours dedicated their sport and university helps to understand why so much money is dumped back into more and better facilities. But Clemson University’s new football facility puts into perspective just how much these schools invest in them.
The $55-million Allen N. Reeves Football Complex opened in 2017 and if you don’t like stairs, it includes a slide option instead. It also includes two bowling alleys, custom Clemson pool tables, arcade games, a golf simulator, a barber shop, a pool and even a nap room. Outside is a basketball court, a 9-hole mini-putt course, a turf wiffle ball diamond, beach volleyball courts and a fire pit.
The facility, also home to their practice field, has a large cafeteria that includes a biometric scanner that “helps develop each players’ daily food intake based on their current weight.”
With many beautiful and even advanced facilities now at universities across Canada, this shows no matter how much progress Canada makes, there’s no outdoing the NCAA.
The NCAA is a one-of-a-kind program that provides incredible atmospheres and outlets for not only American athletes but also Canadian athletes and others across the world.
No other country in the world does college athletics even remotely close to the United States, so it’s unfair to compare the two systems just because they share a border. Chances are no country’s college athletic organization will ever overtake the NCAA.
Canadian athletes, like Marchant, Chad and Harkness, are lucky enough to live in one of the two countries just a border away from a once in a lifetime opportunity.