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Best US Universities for Sports Lovers

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If there’s one element of the US university experience that sets it apart from studying in other countries, it’s the American obsession with sports. More than fraternities and sororities, more than keg stands and cheerleaders, more than beer pong and red cups, the level of interest and hysteria over college sports teams is uniquely American.

If you’re a promising footballer, basketballer or athlete, picking a US university with a strong sports program could be the difference between you turning your natural ability into a successful career or it only being a hobby. Even if you’re more of a fan than a player, or if you’re just interested in sport-adjacent careers like physiotherapy, the top US universities for sport are likely to be far more appealing than other institutions.

But which universities are the best both on and off the field when it comes to sporting prowess? Where should you study if spending weekends in packed college football stadiums – either as a player or a supporter – appeals to you? Who can be expected to produce the next Tom Brady, or LeBron James?

Here’s our rundown of some of the top US universities for sports lovers.

University of Michigan

Regularly attracting crowds of over 100,000 to their home football matches, the University of Michigan is a true sporting powerhouse. The university has had 24 alumni in the last four US Olympic teams as well as 54 conference championships in the last 10 years and boasts incredible varsity facilities. Academically, Michigan isn’t too shabby either, with the sports program boasting an 80% graduation rate among its student athletes. Sport fans will also like the fact there are three professional sports teams based in nearby Detroit (NFL’s Detroit Lions, MLB’s Detroit Tigers and NHL’s Detroit Red Wings).

University of Florida

Particularly strong for football and basketball, the University of Florida is also a great party university, making the fan experience here one of the greatest in the US. You won’t be short on bars to celebrate victories in, whether you’re a player or a fan. Florida is also the joint eighth best university in the world for sports-related subjects, according to the QS World University Rankings by Subject 2017, sharing the position with Pennsylvania State University.

University of Connecticut

Connecticut may not have any professional male sports teams, but this just means the university sides attract even more attention than normal. The basketball team has two men’s national titles in the last decade, but it’s the women’s basketball team that are the real stars at UConn, with a recent winning streak of over 100 consecutive games. If football’s more your thing then this probably isn’t the university for you, but there’s plenty for sports lovers to enjoy about studying in Connecticut.

Ohio State University

With more than 2,500 students playing for a university sports team, Ohio State is a university full of sporting activity. At the figurehead is the university’s football team, which has an enviable record in recent years and attracts crowds of over 100,000, nearly 30,000 of which are student season ticket holders. With 738,500 square feet of indoor recreation space, and fantastic school spirit, there are few places better for both athletes and fans.

University of Wisconsin-Madison

Football and men’s basketball are the two most successful sports teams at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, an institution that manages a perfect blend of campus culture and sporting prowess. Student athletes here have an impressive graduation rate of 70%, suggesting you’ll leave here with a good education as well as a sporting title or two.

University of Notre Dame

Few universities manage to be competitive in such a vast array of sports as Notre Dame, with the soccer, basketball, lacrosse, hockey and fencing teams all either winning titles or reaching semi-finals since the year 2000. Intramural sport is also in rude health here, with student teams existing for practically everything, from full-contact football to co-ed broomball. If being a spectator is more your thing, the Notre Dame stadium – home to four statues of former coaches – provides a matchday experience like few others.

Duke University

Duke’s 9,314-seat basketball stadium is one of the most well-known college sport venues in the country, with students often camping outside for weeks at a time in order to gain a seat for the big game. Varsity athletics is also in extremely healthy shape here, but it’s the two basketball championships since 2010 which get most of the attention. The football team has also performed well of late, although tailgating has been banned since 2010, taking some of the fun of being a fan away from the sport.

University of California, Los Angeles

Student athletes at UCLA get to enjoy some of the finest facilities in the US, in an environment which breeds success. With over 100 NCAA team championships to their name, UCLA has an illustrious sporting history and it’s only getting better each year. Sport fans are also spoilt for choice with countless professional teams on their doorstep, from the Lakers, Rams and Clippers to the Kings and the Dodgers.

University of Texas at Austin

If you like football, you’ll love the matchday experience at UT, where the stadium is filled with an enormous swaying mass of orange shirts, cowboy boots and foam fingers. It’s not just about the games under Friday night lights though; UT also has an enviable women’s athletics program and a proven track record of producing Olympic athletes (23 in the past four US Olympic teams).

Honorable mentions

Florida State University for its school spirit, the University of Oklahoma for its matchday atmosphere, Auburn University for its reward program, the University of Maryland, College Park for its basketball teams, the University of Georgia and its privet hedges, and the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill for dominating women’s soccer.

Image credits: Michigan (One Raised Eyebrow; Flickr), Florida (Jared; Flickr), Connecticut (Matthew D Britt; Flickr), Ohio State (Prayitno Photography; Flickr), Wisconsin and Notre Dame (both Phil Roeder; Flickr), Duke (Mobilus in Mobili; Flickr), UCLA (Simon Shek; Flickr), Texas (Texas Crew; Flickr)

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Written by Craig OCallaghan
As editor of TopUniversities.com, Craig oversees the site's editorial content and network of student contributors. He also plays a key editorial role in the publication of several guides and reports, including the QS Top Grad School Guide.

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