US college sports system a rarity across the globe

  • Posted: Saturday, March 29, 2014 11:47 p.m.
AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar 
In this photo, the Northwestern football team heads to the locker room after warming up for a game.
AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar In this photo, the Northwestern football team heads to the locker room after warming up for a game.

The U.S. college sports system, which generates billions of dollars and draws millions of fans and viewers every year, is a rarity across the globe.

Other nations are puzzled about the concept of student amateurism, and how college students can compete in front of full stadiums and have their jerseys sold, but don’t receive a salary.

From their posts across the world, AP reporters described how top athletes are developed in different sports.


Players are often signed as children by scouts from local soccer clubs. There is no age limit, although players have to be 18 for Argentine clubs to sell them to foreign teams without parental consent.


In Australian rules football and rugby, talented players are scouted in their early teens and join academies and feeder teams run by the big clubs. There are no significant national university-level competitions. Top players get scholarships for elite private high schools, or “centers of excellence” at state government-run schools. Many players take low-paid rookie contracts immediately after high school and use those as the route to the big leagues.


The world’s most populous nation has an organized state sports system that was criticized by some around the Beijing Olympics in 2008. Children are selected as young as 4 and encouraged to focus on the sport for which they show the most aptitude. They are sent to schools that are sometimes far from their homes. Some of the most successful Chinese athletes have recently broken with the state-controlled system, choosing their own coaches and taking charge of their careers.


England hasn’t won a major title in soccer since the 1966 World Cup and the way talent is developed in the country is often criticized. The best young English players are scouted at an early age by local clubs with trials. The very best often join Premier League clubs’ academies before the age of 10.


Young cricket players compete in city and provincial competitions. Schools and universities play a small role in player development. Around the world, the best cricket players represent their countries in competitions. The Indian Premier League is giving more players at a lower level the chance to be professionals, with more clubs, shorter seasons and a chance for players not on the national team to be recognized.


Pro baseball teams can’t negotiate with young players until they’ve finished high school at the age of 18. There is an amateur draft every fall. Heavily scouted teenage players often turn pro straight out of high school. Other talented players join corporate leagues or go to college to develop their games before signing with professional teams.


Mexico s top flight soccer teams are allowed to sign youth players to professional contracts regardless of age. The only restriction is that the length of the contract cannot be for more than three years. Most professional squads have their own soccer schools, where kids from 5 to 12 participate.


In Spain, young soccer players can sign professional contracts when they turn 16. Before that, children join training academies run by soccer clubs that field youth teams in amateur leagues. While major clubs may entice the families of some high-profile young talents with offers of jobs or even money, most children play for the training academies of their hometown clubs. Spanish law requires children to stay in school until 16, the same age players can join the union.


Football and basketball players typically compete in high school, and the best players are scouted by college coaches. Players can attend all-star games and college camps in the offseason. The best athletes sign with colleges for four years, in exchange for a scholarship. The National Football League will not select players until three years after their high school class graduates. The National Basketball Association will not select players until one year after their high school class graduates. College football and men’s basketball generate billions in revenue for the schools and the NCAA.

In baseball, players compete in high school and the best are scouted by college coaches and Major League Baseball teams. Some have the opportunity to play in college for full or partial scholarships, or sign professional contracts after high school. Players start in the minor leagues, playing for a team run by one of the MLB clubs.

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