College athletics refers to different sports practiced as part of higher education at a university or equivalent establishment. College sports are very popular in the United States and the championships are organized in divisions around different sports disciplines sanctioned mainly by the NCAA, which is the largest college sports organization.
What is the NCAA?
The NCAA is a nonprofit organization responsible for organizing the athletic programs of the majority of universities and colleges in the United States and Canada. The competitions are divided into three divisions and are organized around conferences that bring together an average of a dozen universities. These conferences vary according to the sports disciplines and whether they are men's or women's competitions. In an average year, the NCAA generates most of its revenue from television and marketing rights fees. In its 2020 financial year, the NCAA generated more than 820 million U.S. dollars in revenue from television and marketing rights fees, and this figure is forecast to reach almost one billion U.S. dollars by 2025.
Student athletes are not paid for their exploits, something which divides public opinion, given the amount of revenue that college sports generates and the popularity of the events among fans. In fact, a September 2021 survey in the United States revealed that over 50 percent of the population were avid fans or casual fans of college football. There are, however, generous scholarships available to the top student athletes, which cover some, or all, of their college tuition. In 2021, there were almost 30 thousand college sport scholarships available in track & cross country, as well as over 27 thousand for football. Overall, there were almost 152 thousand sports scholarships available to students in 2020/21, with over 3,000 more scholarships available to male athletes than female athletes.
March Madness - NCAA's marquee event
The attention paid to college sport heightens each year with the start of the 2021 NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament – often referred to as March Madness - which is a single elimination contest for college basketball teams. The tournament takes place each spring and is one of the most popular sporting events in the United States. The Kentucky Wildcats have played in a record 181 March Madness games between 1942 and 2019, lifting the trophy eight times during that period. The 2021 tournament saw the Baylor Bears win their first championship title, beating the Gonzaga Bulldogs in the final game. The 2021 championship game was watched by an average of 16.9 viewers, with cable or satellite TV being the preferred method of watching the big game.
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Opinion on male and female student athlete equal compensation in the U.S. in 2021
Public opinion on whether male and female college athletes who play the same sport should be compensated equally regardless of how much revenue their program generates in the United States as of June 2021