Idiosyncracies of the US university system, part 1

Tuesday 17th July 2012, 3.20pm (day 327)

Bryant-Denny stadium, 17/7/12

There have been significant developments at home in Hebden Bridge today but here is not the place to discuss them. You will doubtless hear more about it after I am back in the UK on Saturday.

Anyway, here in Tuscaloosa, I had to include a photo of the Bryant-Denny stadium, home of the Crimson Tide, the University of Alabama (American) football team. Those of us who are not from the US have this vague idea that college sports is somehow important here in a way it is not in most other countries, but largely we do not recognise the astonishing scale of it. To put it in perspective, the population of Tuscaloosa, AL, is about 90,000. The capacity of this stadium is over 101,000. If it were in the UK – or most other countries in the world – it would be the largest stadium in the country. The whole state of Alabama treats the Tide (national champions many times, and most recently in 2009 and 2011) as if they were not only their favoured sports team, but were part of their whole cultural identity, in a similar way to Barcelona for Catalans or Celtic for Irish/Scots Catholics. At times it feels as if the college were just something that existed to support the team, rather than the other way around. The coach is the single best-paid employee of the whole university, at around $7m/year. I understand why it happens, but the scale of it continues to amaze me, even after several years of visiting US campuses to work.

And yes, I do intend to do a ‘part 2’ to this post: tomorrow or Thursday, hopefully…

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