In the world of college sports, football and basketball get most of the glory. Then, when those seasons are over, you might hear about the College World Series (if you’re from Nebraska) or the Frozen Four (if you’re from North Dakota or Massachusetts). But that’s about it. You hardly ever hear about college bowling or college surfing. Yet these collegiate sports exist. Really. They have uniforms and everything.
Personally, I think it’s time we celebrate these obscure college sports. It’s not fair that football players and basketball players get all the love—I mean, they already get all the money. So here’s a list of 9 obscure (but totally awesome) college sports played by men and women who know they’ll probably never make a dime after they graduate.
Lots of schools have equestrian clubs (apparently), but only programs that dabble in both varieties of the sport (Western and English) get to compete against other schools for the “Varsity Equestrian” national crown. The sport is sanctioned by the NCAA, but it is still what they call an “emerging” sport rather than a “championship” sport. All that means is, right now, only women compete. In 2011, Texas A&M won the Western division, but Auburn won the English division as well as the overall title.
Unlike the previous entry, Rifle (not “Rifling,” or “Rifle Shooting”…just “Rifle”) is a full-fledged, NCAA-sanctioned championship sport. Interestingly, it’s one of the few sports that has men and women competing against one another. In its 30 year history, this collegiate sport has had only a handful of champions. They are: West Virginia (14), University of Alaska-Fairbanks (10), Tennessee Tech (3), Murray State (2), Army, TCU, and Kentucky.
On a side note, am I the only one concerned by the fact that Army has only won one single national rifle championship?
Bowling is another NCAA-sanctioned college championship—but sorry dudes, it’s only for women. Yep, it’s one of those college sports that probably would not exist at the level it does (with Division I, II, and III programs) without Title IX.
In case you don’t know your American Civil Rights history, Title IX was a portion of the 1964 Civil Rights Act that was amended in 1972 to stipulate that no educational program shall discriminate on the basis of sex. While it did not explicitly apply to college sports, this is the area in which it has had the most impact. Basically, as it has been interpreted, Title IX just means that colleges have to spend as much money on women’s sports as they do on men’s sports. (Quite fair, in my opinion.) And since they spend so much money on the big men’s sports, that means there are lots of random college sports programs only for women. Like bowling.
Obviously, surfing isn’t a big sport for Big East or Big 10 schools, but it’s pretty popular among colleges out west. Unfortunately, this one is not (yet) an NCAA sport. Instead, intercollegiate competition is organized by something called the National Scholastic Surfing Association. The sport’s most dominant programs? UC-Santa Barbara and UC-San Diego. Shocking, I know.
5. Team Handball
Team Handball, not to be confused with American Handball, is kind of a cross between soccer, basketball, and lacrosse. In most cases, it’s played indoors on a basketball-like court; however, it can also be played outside.
And that’s about all the elucidation you’re going to get out of me. The main point is that it is obscure—so much so that there are only a handful of competitive programs. For the last decade, all but one championship game pitted Army against UNC.
Anyway, there is a surprisingly formal intercollegiate paintball organization. It’s called the National Collegiate Paintball Association, and they sanction a “Division A” competition as well as a less-competitive “Division AA” competition. Early on in the sport’s history (which is about 12 years ago), it was completely dominated by the Illinois Fighting Illini. These days, there’s a lot more competitive balance. Over the last five years, there have been five different national champs: Connecticut, Illinois State, Purdue, Drexel, and Tennessee.
By the way, pictured here are the SUNY-Suffolk Class AA Fighting Pigeons.
You may be wondering what orienteering is. Basically, you drop a bunch of people off in the middle of nowhere with nothing but a map and a compass. Then they race to an unknown finish line. You might call it “fancy race hiking.”
Thankfully, while the U.S. Military Academy sucks at rifle, they at least kick ass in orienteering. They have won 15 of the last 17 national championships in the sport.
Once again, this aint no NCAA sport. It is instead sanctioned by the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association. Recent champs include schools like Sam Houston State, Vernon College, West Texas College, and West Texas A&M—in other words, not your typical college sports power houses.
1. Bass Fishing
Bass fishing is hardly an obscure pastime. Millions do it. It’s also not an obscure pro sport—pro bass fisherman make a ton of money in tournaments and on endorsement deals. But as far as college sports go, yes, I’d say bass fishing is pretty obscure.
Of course, it’s also fairly new (and obviously not sanctioned by the NCAA). While both major pro bass fishing circuits (FLW Outdoors and Bassmaster) sponsor college events, it’s the FLW-sponsored championship that seems to have caught on in recent years. Not surprisingly, the winner of the first two competitions were the Florida Gators.