College sports is a big deal on most campuses. In some cases, college sports means big money. Notre Dame Football brings in millions of dollars each year for the vaunted college. Basketball at Indiana University is almost as lucrative.
Not only does the income from the upper echelon sports help fund universities as a whole, but it also helps fund lesser sports, not quite so popular, like track, baseball and bass fishing. Wait...bass fishing?
Collegiate bass fishing may never approach the interest levels generated by college football, but there is evidence competitive angling is following the footsteps of other popular NCAA sports as more and more colleges, particularly in the southeast, America’s “bass belt,” add tournament fishing teams to their rosters. A few even offer scholarships to attract young anglers who have already proven their skills competing at the high school level.
The Bassmaster College Bass Fishing Series Southern Regional, fished recently at Lake Martin in central Alabama, drew an amazing field of 225 boats, one of the largest fields at any level ever attracted by a B.A.S.S. event and by far the largest college event ever.
The NCAA sanctioned College Series tournaments have seen growth each year. This year's field was more than 80 percent higher than the 124-boat field in last year's Southern Regional. This surpassed all expectations and is a clear indication of how desirable the Bassmaster College Series has become.
Most of the young anglers competing in the college events get their start in high-school level competitions which are also booming around the nation. B.A.S.S. coordinated high school events are now available in every state except North Dakota.
High school events have become a proving ground for young anglers, just as high school ball sports are for NCAA competition. B.A.S.S. has set up an All-American program that honors the top young anglers not only for their success in competition, but also for their character, leadership, and maintaining solid grades--a 2.5 average on a 4-point scale is required.
Once a few states made bass fishing a team sport and high schools started offering fishing clubs, it expanded naturally into college teams. Just as in other sports, a select few will make it on to the ranks of the pros.
Several former All American high school competitors have advanced through the college and regional tournament circuits to become members of the Elite Tour, generally recognized as the NFL of bass fishing. At that level top competitors often earn six-figure incomes.
High school and college competitors are amateurs so winning money is out. Winners come away with ribbons and trophies, although in many of the top contests, do have cash pay outs and sponsors offer tackle, gear and even boats and motors as prizes - the winnings presented to the schools, not the competitors. This allows students with the desire, but lacking the necessary equipment, access to the gear they need to compete.
Many colleges not having university “sponsored” teams, do have university “sanctioned” teams. All the Big Ten schools fall into this category, allowing organizations like the Purdue Bass Fishing Club or the Illini Bass Fishing Club, to use university facilities for their meetings, use copyrighted athletic logos, mascot and team names as well as the university name.
In the upper Midwest, college tournaments are held mostly during the normal school year in September and October, then resume with tournaments scheduled in March, April and May.
School sanctioned student fishermen is good for the competitive bass fishing industry. It results in boat and tackle sales across the board. More importantly, the industry has learned the competitors that go on to the pro level often become great spokesmen for their sponsors. They're well educated, well-spoken and some of them have marketing or business degrees that let them step right into the outdoor recreation industry. Even for those who don’t turn pro, the experience is a great opportunity for young men and women to get outdoors while in school and compete in a sport they can follow their whole lives.
WildIndianaVideo interview of members from Purdue, Vincennes, Ball State and Indiana University Bass Fishing Teams