Priyank knew athletics played a big role on US college campuses, but never could have fully understood the magnitude awaiting him.
Priyank arrived at Louisiana State University (LSU) from India in August 2016 to study at its number-three ranked petroleum engineering program.
Within a few weeks, the passion and pageantry of American football was on full display as LSU hosted its first home game of the new season.
“It was amazing,” he said. “I could never have imagined that this could happen in a college because we have a different culture. We could never imagine those things, so it was surprising. It was good. We played a lot of games, we had food, and it was really fun.”
“We went to the hill nearby the stadium, and when all the players started coming, I was so excited… Then I went to the stadium… it was really fun. I’d never been to a stadium before, so it was just really amazing. I’ll never forget it. And the crowd, I’ve never seen such a crazy crowd. The team spirit was unimaginable.”
Priyank is familiar with large sporting events: Sardar Patel Stadium in Gujarat, Priyank’s home state, underwent a major renovation and expansion this year. But when it comes to sheer size, US colleges are nearly unparalleled — seven of the world’s 10 largest stadiums belong to US college football teams!
Tiger Stadium at LSU holds 102,321 screaming fans for every LSU home game—it is number five among college stadiums and number nine in the entire world. And that sea of purple and gold spills across the 20-square-kilometer campus from dawn until after dusk on those electric Saturdays in the fall.
Hundreds of thousands of fans visit Baton Rouge from all over the country to “tailgate” for the Tigers’ games. Essentially, groups gather to cook, play games and music, and celebrate in an extensive carnival-like atmosphere.
“Everyone is just having fun and supporting a team that we all love,” said Minh, a first-year student from Vietnam studying finance. “The sense of community and belonging is so strong, and it’s just such a great atmosphere.”
Football is king across the United States and particularly across the Southeast region of the country. But huge crowds flock to a wide range of sports to support their universities and enjoy the quality time and memories with their friends, classmates, and other fans.
LSU has led the nation in baseball attendance for 24 straight seasons — even topping the Major League franchise Miami Marlins the past two years. And the Tigers’ softball and gymnastics teams rank in the top 10 in attendance in their respective sports.
Several teams compete at a championship level each year, including the men’s and women’s basketball teams. (Prior to coronavirus cancellations, both teams were projected to participate and place well again in the 2020 NCAA tournaments.)
“I know everyone at LSU loves football, but going to basketball games is actually my favorite. There’s just so much energy in the arena from the light show before the game to the fans being so involved, and you can really see the players and feel the excitement.” — Helena, biological sciences major, Brazil
Fans from across the country support larger universities like LSU’s sports programs.
International students reference their surprise to see purple-and-gold Tigers apparel on various trips to other states. And sometimes that reach even extends back home.
“Whenever I go back to Moscow, my high school is an international school, and everyone is looking for colleges in the states, so everyone knows about LSU and its football culture,” said Kate, a second-year marketing student of Vietnamese descent who grew up in Russia. “Especially when I went back this winter break, everyone was talking about LSU and how we were going to win the national championship and asking me about going to LSU. And I felt really proud. Even though I’m not really as involved with football as other students, it definitely gave me that feeling of being proud for my school.”
Even if students are not sports fans when they arrive on campus, they find themselves quickly caught up in that school spirit and sense of community.
By their sophomore year, Priyank and friends — Siddarth from India, Toluwalope from Nigeria, and Yogiswara from Indonesia — were craving a football national championship during their college careers.
And the Tigers finally made those dreams a reality on January 13, 2020, by completing arguably the most dominant season in the history of the sport just a few months before the group’s graduation and winning the College Football Playoff National Championship.
“It’s the best graduation gift,” Yogi smiled.
“Amazing!” Tolu added.
Patryk was already an American football fan back home in Poland, where he even remembers playing NCAA Football video games as a child and watching national championships. But watching his own school actually do so and being able to share that excitement with his new friends from the US and all over the world made the entire experience all the more special.
“I remember watching the championship game a year ago when Clemson destroyed Alabama, alone in my room, since I was the only college football fan I knew in Poland,” the first-year computer science major said. “Back then, I would have never imagined that just a year later my own university would not only play for the championship, but win it in such a fashion.
“What made it even better was that I could enjoy the game with my friends, who, just like myself, are college football fans from all over the world… It was an experience I will certainly never forget, and the fact that I could live through it with my closest friends made it 10 times better.”
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