This month’s big NCAA tournament is the ultimate democratic sporting event—one where schools from the most humble of athletic origins get to strut and fret their hour upon the national stage and entertain visions of knocking off a Division I powerhouse or two before succumbing to an inevitable fate by the Round of 16.
The March mania also reminds us that the U.S. is the only country in the world where varsity athletics often play a huge—even defining—role in campus life and culture. Can you imagine undergrads at Oxford or Cambridge painting their faces in the appropriate shade of blue to cheer on their oarsmen in what the Brits refer to simply as “The Race”?
Many of the 64 teams that will be battling it out to be one of the last four standing at North Texas University on April 5 represent schools where pep rallies, tailgating, tent cities and the deafening roars that resonate off gym walls are central to the undergraduate experience. Among these universities, four schools stand out for best sports traditions:
Sports are a year-round obsession at number-one-seeded University of Florida. Students go wild anytime the Gators either take to a court or a gridiron, especially when they are squaring off against archrivals Florida State or University of Georgia. The latter game, which takes place on neutral ground in Jacksonville, Florida over the fall break, draws the vast majority of Florida undergrads for what is billed as the “World’s Largest Cocktail Party.” Back home, the annual homecoming extravaganza—known as the “Gater Growl”—has been called the biggest student-run pep rally.
Duke’s official motto is “Eruditio et Religio” to straight-laced administrators, but everyone else knows it as “Eruditio et Basketballio.” At games, students at the number three seed transform into the legendary “Cameron Crazies” and make life miserable for the opposing team—particularly if that team is UNC at Chapel Hill. To get courtside seats for the UNC game, students erect a temporary tent city—dubbed “Krzyzewskiville” after the surname of fabled coach Mike—and form groups to hold their place so that some of them can go to class and keep their peers on track academically.
See if it made the 2014 Fiske Guide to Colleges with Great Sports Traditions list!
Basketball is like a second religion in Kentucky, and there’s no better place to worship than the legendary Rupp Arena, home to number-eight-seeded UK. As you listen to the roar of this stadium’s consistently packed student section, you’ll find not one, but two mascots leading the charge. The original Wildcat, Gary Tanner, has been known for dancing and entertaining thousands of UK fans since the 1976–1977 academic year. A few years later, another more kid-friendly mascot joined the league: Scratch, a stilt-walking wildcat. Now, both mascots work together as ambassadors for the university.
While the number-two-seeded University of Michigan strives to offer its students a delicate balance between academics, athletics, and social activities, students have gathered to cheer “Go Blue!” for decades. Football overshadows nearly everything in the fall, but one student told the Fiske Guide to Colleges that “you shouldn’t be allowed to graduate if you haven’t gone to a hockey game.” The battle for the “Little Brown Jug” between Michigan and Minnesota is the oldest Division 1-A trophy game, dating back to 1909.
Looking for more examples of sports-crazy schools? Just check out the action in the stands as you watch the NCAA tournament on television.
Check out Fiske Interactive Online to read detailed descriptions over 300 colleges in the US and abroad.