Top 5 fervent fan bases of SEC football

11. July 2014 11:32 by Julie Merar in College Sports  //  Tags:   //   Comments ()

The Southeastern Conference of the NCAA is known for containing some of the most fervent fan bases in the country. When football season rolls around, the stadiums of Ole Miss, South Carolina and LSU fill up as students and community members rush in to support their home teams. In honor of these wild fans, here are the top five most fervent fan bases across all of college football:

5. Alabama Crimson Tide
Head coach Nick Saban is widely regarded as one of the best in the league, with a record of 170-57-1. With such a star coach at the helm, it's no wonder Alabama tickets routinely sell out on game day. The franchise sold more than 101,000 tickets for its national championship game, but it isn't just the numbers that earn the Crimson Tide a spot on this list. The loyalty with which students and alumni pledge themselves to the football program at the University of Alabama is truly without equal.

4. Ohio State Buckeyes
The Ohio State University is home to one of the largest student bodies in the country. More than 43,000 undergraduates attend the school, though the average football game attendance is more than double that. The large Buckeye community fan base will come out to support their team on even the coldest Ohio fall day. Despite the large capacity of the stadium compared to the number of undergraduates, Ohio State football tickets can be difficult even for students to get ahold of.

3. Michigan Wolverines
With one of the highest attendance figures in the nation (the Wolverines average more than 100,000 fans a game), the University of Michigan Wolverines more than deserve a spot on this ranking. The coaching staff at Michigan recognize the dedication of their fans and are more than willing to give back. In fact, they recently honored a young fan battling cancer by recruiting him to the team. As part of the process he got to meet with current players and coaches as well as attend a press conference with his favorite team. It is that kind of positive fan treatment that keeps Michigan Stadium (aka "The Big House") packed all season long.

2. Georgia Bulldogs
Georgia football is huge in the university's home city of Athens. Bulldogs fans routinely show up to Sanford Stadium more than 90,000 strong to celebrate the hometown heroes. Dawgs fans are so intense that they have even invented their own lingo to refer to their team. For example, the saying "between the hedges" was started by UGA fans, as their stadium was one of the first to enclose the field in hedge plants. In addition, Dawgs call football pants "silver britches" in honor of head coach Wally Butts, and "Uga" is the name of the live English bulldog mascot. 

1. Louisiana State Tigers
The fan activity inside Tiger Stadium on game day is almost as wild as what goes on outside of it beforehand. LSU is known for having some of the best and most outrageous tailgate ceremonies in the country. Even the fans who can't get game tickets show up for the shrimp boil!

New MLS soccer academies promise to have long-term effects

9. July 2014 10:20 by Julie Merar in Soccer  //  Tags:   //   Comments ()

If you were to buy LA Galaxy tickets today and go to a game, a third of the players you would see would be from somewhere outside the United States. Of the 20 American players, only seven of them are from the Los Angeles area, with only two from L.A. proper. However, the lack of homegrown talent on Major League Soccer teams may soon come to an end.

The field is rapidly changing when it comes to recruiting talented soccer players to MLS teams. Traditionally, players go through a circuit of little league teams, travel teams, rec​reational teams, high school teams, college teams and eventually, hopefully, a professional contract. However, the U.S. soccer culture is quickly shifting toward the European style of training players from ages as young as 5 in one soccer academy for their entire development careers. In this system, a player's time at academy ends in either a professional contract or burnout. There are several advantages and disadvantages to this system, but with a new youth academy connected to almost every MLS team, whether you are for it or against it, the academy system seems somewhat inevitable.

Stability and training
The MLS soccer academies are all affiliated with a particular team. As the system currently operates, the academies can recruit from within a 75-mile radius of their facility with the option of adding two players that are not within the range of a different academy. The training that players receive at these institutions is completely free and they do not receive any financial compensation, making them eligible for NCAA play. At the end of their tenure they will either receive a professional contract or go off to play in college.

In many ways this is an improvement over the current system. For one, it gives players stability in their training regimen. Instead of shuffling around from team to team, they are exposed to one single coaching staff that provides continuous development. In the existing system, players may only work with a certain coach for one season and then move to another team. That new coach will then have to assess the player's skills and continue development from there. In the academies, players work with a coaching staff that can track them over the long term.

Additionally, these academies are completely free and local. Meanwhile, travel and rec teams often pose significant costs to the players' parents. The academies provide opportunities to talented players who would otherwise be priced out of the system.

Decreasing the talent pool
Despite the benefits, there are also a few drawbacks to this system. The one main repercussion that many soccer analysts have pointed to is the potential decrease in college-level talent and the disappearance of the draft. The academies scoop up all the really good players from a young age, and once they are in the system many choose not to go to college, especially if it is likely that they will receive a professional contract. Thus, the player pool of college players will diminish and professional teams will rely on the academies to fill their rosters with homegrown talent rather than use the draft system.

While the short-term effects of these academies may ultimately be negligible, in three to five years, we could be looking at an entirely different soccer landscape.

Are you excited about the new MLS academies or are you worried about how they will affect the sport?

Boy bands then and now

30. June 2014 10:23 by Julie Merar in   //  Tags:   //   Comments ()

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