A list of the most popular college sports in the US and Canada

A list of the most popular college sports in the US and Canada

Claudia Kogi
updated at April 12, 2023 at 8:26 PM
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The youth stage is the best time to nurture a dream or a talent per se. If someone wants to be a sportsman, it is often the perfect time to display their full potential. That said, it is the main reason you will find talented youngsters in schools and colleges. Unlike the past decades, today, some of the most popular college sports in the world have emerged.

Most popular men's and women's college sports
A list of the most popular college sports in the US and Canada. Photo: Steph Chambers (Modified by author)
Source: Getty Images

The United States of America and Canada are often known to be the homes of the most successful athletes in the world. Statistically, they have numerous colleges that embrace different kinds of sports like basketball, soccer, tennis, ice hockey, American football, and many more.

There are over 8,000 indigenous games in the world today, and three-quarters of these sports are often practised in learning institutions like schools and colleges. For starters, the two notable nations where college sports are ideally embraced day in and day out are the United States of America and Canada.

According to a close, in-depth analysis, SportsBrief has compiled two lists detailing some of the most popular college sports in the USA and Canada. Have a peek to find out more.

Sports are an instrumental spectrum of cohesion and integration in most countries. It is challenging to estimate the exact participation numbers for sports globally. However, it is notable that some are more popular than others.

Millions of people on the continent enjoy some of the most popular games in America. Here are some of the most famous men's and women's college sports in the US today.

5. Volleyball

Most popular college sports in the United State of America
Jackie Howell #3 of the Montana Grizzlies spikes the ball during a college volley match against Montana State University on 11 November 2022 in Missoula, Montana. Photo: Tommy Martino
Source: Getty Images

Volleyball is one of the most popular college sports in the US as of 2023. Two teams play the sport, usually six players on each side of the court. These athletes use their hands to bat a ball back and forth over a high net.

They try to make the ball touch the court within the opponent's playing area before it can be returned.

  • Year of invention: 1895
  • Inventor: William G Morgan
  • Governing body: Federation Internationale de Volleyball (FIVB)
  • First Olympics: 1964
  • Famous college players: Logan Eggleston, Stephanie Samedy, Elena Scott, Brionne Butler

4. Ice hockey

Most popular men's and women's college sports
Devon Levi #1 of Huskies celebrates after his game-winning save against the Harvard Crimson during NCAA hockey championships on 13 February 2023 in Boston, Massachusetts. Photo: Rich Gagnon
Source: Getty Images

Ice hockey is among the most televised sports in the United of America, dating back to the 1950s. As of 2023, the sport's peak popularity has already seen 113,000 spectators flock to a college stadium in Michigan.

Currently, 61 ice hockey teams are in the NCAA Division 1. Each unit has six players who propel the puck past a goal line and into a net guarded by a goaltender. The game is mainly famous for its speed and frequent physical contact. Additionally, it is the most popular college sport in Canada.

  • Year of invention: 1875
  • Governing body: International Tennis Federation (ITF)
  • First Olympics: 1896
  • Famous college players: Cale Makar, Adam Fox, Charlie McAvoy, Connor Hellebuyck

3. Soccer

Most popular college sports in the United State of America
OH Leuven players during the pre-season friendly match against K Beerschot VA at the OH Leuven Banqup Campus on 6 July 2022 in Oud-Heverlee, Belgium. Photo: Plumb Images
Source: Getty Images

It is without a doubt that soccer had to appear on the list, considering it is among the most televised and followed spots in the world today. It involves two teams of eleven players who try to manoeuvre the ball into the other team's goal.

Using hands or arms is prohibited, and the team that scores more goals wins the match or tournament. As of 2023, there are 48 teams in the NCAA Division I for Men's Soccer Championships, with the Saint Louis Billikens Men's Soccer Teams being the most successful program with ten championships.

  • Year of invention: 1863
  • Governing body: FIFA
  • First Olympics: 1900 (men) and 1996 (women)
  • Famous college players: Duncan McGuire, Peter Stroud, Daniel Munie, Shakur Mohammed

2. Basketball

Most popular men's and women's college sports
Seth Wilson #14 of the West Virginia Mountaineers shoots against Osun Osunniyi #21 of the Iowa State Cyclones in the second half on 27 February 2023 in Ames, Iowa. Photo: David Purdy
Source: Getty Images

And now to the second most popular college sport in the United States of America, basketball. It is a team sport with two opposing teams with five players on the court trying to score a goal on the opposing team's hoop by shooting the ball through it.

Usually played on indoor rectangular courts, the game is pretty dynamic, and it builds stamina from the short sprints required to running up and down the length of the court.

  • Year of invention: 1891
  • Governing body: The International Basketball Federation
  • First Olympics: 1936
  • Famous college players: Lew Alcindor, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Pete Maravich, Bill Walton, Hank Gathers

1. American football

American football is the most popular college sport in the United States of America. It is a sport played by two opposing teams on a rectangular field with goalposts at both ends. Additionally, it is a sport involving immense physicality and exciting plays that fans love to watch.

Top 10 most popular college sports in the world
Cooper DeJean #3 of the Lowa Hawkeyes runs with the ball against the Kentucky Wildcats during the TransPerfect Music City Bowl on 31 December 2022, in Nashville, Tennessee. Photo: Carly Mackler
Source: Getty Images

Also referred to as Gridiron football, it evolved from English rugby and soccer. However, unlike soccer, players can touch, throw, and carry the ball with their hands. It also differs from rugby because it allows each side to control the ball in alternating possessions.

  • Year of invention: 1869
  • Governing body: International Federation of American Football
  • First Olympics: 1904
  • Famous college players: Star Lotulelei, Jarvis Jones, Damontre Moore, Jonathan Hankins

Canada is one country renowned for its diverse climate seasons hence the wide range of games that can be played. They participate in both winter and summer games, which are lucrative due to the incredible support from the fans.

The country has some of the most talented athletes winning medals and trophies in different leagues and games. Their recent achievement is their FIFA 2022 World Cup appearance, where they were outplayed in the group stages.

According to various online sources, here are some of the most popular college sports the country continues to nurture daily.

5. Baseball

Closely related to cricket, baseball had to be represented. Major League Baseball, MLB, and other championships propel the sport forward. In fact, in 2016, Baseball Canada reported that an estimated 120,000 players were attracted to the sport.

Players play with a bat, ball, and gloves, with two teams of nine players each competing on a field with four white bases laid out in a diamond. The game's rules closely resemble those for rounders.

  • Year of invention: 1846
  • Governing body: International Baseball Federation
  • First Olympics: 1904
  • Famous college players: Ferguson Jenkins, Larry Walker, Joey Votto, Jeff Heath

4. Cricket

Most popular college sports in Canada
Canada teammates pose for a selfie photo after the ICC U19 Cricket World Cup match against Namibia at Bert Sutcliffe Oval on 18 January 2018 in Christchurch, New Zealand. Photo: Martin Hunter-ICC
Source: Getty Images

Cricket is one of the fastest-growing sports in Canada as of 2023. Statistically, there are about 40,000 cricketers in Canada. That number continues to increase with the emergence of domestic cricket tournaments such as the National T20 Championship and Scotia Shield U-19, attracting more people to the competitive sport.

It is played by two teams of 11 with a bat and ball, with one player on each team acting as the captain. Matches range from informal weekend afternoon activities on village greens to top-level international contests over five days.

  • Year of invention: 1611
  • Governing body: The International Cricket Council
  • First Olympics: 1900
  • Famous college players: Riswan Cheema, Dillon Heyliger, Joe Harris, Rayyan Pathan

3. Rugby

Most popular college sports in the United State of America
Josiah Morra of Canada is tackled during the 2023 Sydney Sevens match against Australia at Allianz Stadium on 28 January 2023 in Sydney, Australia. Photo: Matt King
Source: Getty Images

The Rugby Union has made strides in making the sport more popular in Canada. Both young and senior players have shown interest and participate in the leagues and tournaments such as the Canadian Rugby Championship Americas Rugby Championship, among others.

It is one sport played with an oval ball by two teams of 15 players. It is a close-contact team sport that originated from Rugby School in the first half of the 19th century. It is based on running with a ball in hand.

  • Year of invention: 1823
  • Governing body: World Rugby
  • First Olympics: 1900
  • Famous college players: Jerry Boone, Eric Cameron, Albert du Temple, Campbell Forbes

2. Canadian football

Top 10 most popular college sports in the world
Chandler Worthy #30 of the Montreal Alouettes returns a punt as Grant McDonald #29 of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats pursues on 6 November 2022 in Montreal, Canada. Photo: John E Sokolowski
Source: Getty Images

The game is similar to rugby and American football, originating back in the 1860s. It has two opposing teams of twelve members. The country's professional league is called the Canadian Football League.

The sport is allegedly among Canada's most popular and televised sports in that in 2014 alone, 33% of the population watched the Grey Cup.

  • Year of invention: 1861
  • Governing body: International Federation of American Football and Football Canada
  • First Olympics: (Not yet)
  • Famous college players: Willie Pless, George Reed, Milt Stegall, Chris Walby

1. Lacrosse

As far back as the 17th century, lacrosse has been a game Canadians have engaged in with utter delight. Being a fast-paced sport that has gained momentum since its recognition as a summer Olympics game, lacrosse is considered Canada's summer sport, attracting thousands of fans.

Most popular college sports in Canada
Hugh Kelleher #27 of the Cornell Big Red moves during the Division I Men"u2019s Lacrosse Championship held at Rentschler Field on 30 May 2022 in East Hartford, Connecticut. Photo: Larry French
Source: Getty Images

The sport is less widespread outside Canada than in North American nations. Canada is also one of the most lethal countries to play the sport, especially after enthralling the United States of America in a fierce match to win the World Lacrosse Championship.

It is a team sport that involves a stick with a net to shoot the ball into the opponent's goal. It is played on the entire field with ten players for each team consisting of one goalie, three attackmen, three midfielders, and three defenders.

  • Year of invention: 1100 AD
  • Governing body: World Lacrosse
  • First Olympics: 1904
  • Famous players: Gordon Gair, Gary Gait, Paul Gait, Nenad Gajic

Soccer or football is the most popular and financially lucrative sport globally, with fans and players worldwide.

Collegiate games are regarded as stepping stones for aspiring athletes who wish to enter professional leagues of their respective sports events. Notably, the United States and Canada are some of the countries with the most popular college sports in the world today.

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Claudia Kogi photo
Claudia Kogi
Claudia Kogi is a Kenyan content creator with over 3 years of experience. Claudia joined Sportsbrief.com as a writer in January 2022, covering sports and relatable content.
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