Yesterday, we discussed and questioned why soccer gets so little coverage as a major college sport – with the interest, the exciting games and natural rivalries, the lack of national attention makes little sense. Today, we’re taking a different route, as we will look at the top 5 little-known, or niche, college sports that are surprisingly fun to watch. While I’m not necessarily going to make the argument for nationally televised games, as I did with soccer, I do think it would be intriguing to see these sports garner a little more coverage. Without further ado:
5. Sprint Football
This one is fifth on the list because it is the least ‘niche’ sport on the list. This game is played the same as regular football, but players are required to maintain a body weight of 178 pounds or lighter, with a minimum 5% body fat. This puts the emphasis on speed and agility rather than pure strength and force. Military academy teams like Army and Navy, who met in the 2019 title game, have a bit of an advantage with their raw athleticism allowing them to thrive in a weight-controlled environment. With plenty of flea flickers and double reverses to go around, the explosiveness of sprint football makes for some entertaining games that allow teams with the skill but not the size to compete in NCAA football to thrive.
This one is the biggest stretch, because squash is probably the least televisable of the games on this list, but it’s a naturally competitive game, and the points are quick enough for the modern attention span of its audience. Although the ‘highlight’ videos are pretty sparse, the enclosed space with just the two athletes sprinting around the small court can make for some athletic and exciting points. Maybe we don’t need ESPN covering these games (although I would gladly watch some live Squash games right now), but this is a fun little niche sport.
I mean, Paintball is always entertaining at any level. The courses that the collegiate sport is played on make the games (matches?) entertaining. The athletes are suited up, diving around, ducking behind inflatable obstacles, all while shooting guns? As a fan of quick-paced and aggressive sports, I’d be more than happy to see this on TV once in a while.
This game being televised and covered more broadly makes a lot of sense – the game of Spikeball, or roundnet, has an intense following – the official Spikeball has 462,000 followers. It’s played casually on the beach, or internationally at premier tournaments. The highlight reels include ridiculous diving saves, body blocks, between the leg spikes, and everything else you’d want to see. There plenty of regional rivalries in this one – maybe Notre Dame and Ohio State don’t meet often in college football, but the Buckeyes and Irish in the fall and spring regional tournaments, routinely finishing 1-2 in the midwest tournaments.
1. Ultimate Frisbee
This one surprises me how little attention it gets. I think a lot of people underestimate how much of a sport Ultimate is. It’s not governed by the NCAA, but the game is popular nationwide. While teams in the Carolinas often dominate, BYU, Oregon, and other Northwestern teams boast impressive squads. The sport has its own “Heisman” known as the Callahan Award, and highlight videos, as shown above, feature astounding full-field hucks, layout blocks and catches, and skies. Between regional and national tournaments, Ultimate Frisbee has intense competition with a cult-like following.