Whether you're partaking in the action or watching from the stands, sports is an ever-present part of the college life. Walk across a major college campus on any given weekend during a semester, and you'll find oodles of people playing flag football, pickup basketball and softball, and even more gathering to root on their school's football and basketball teams. Of course, the aforementioned sports are just the most notable associated with college. If you look harder, you'll find a few interesting ones that you may not have realized were even organized, or in some cases — existed. The 10 following obscure college sports vary in classification and recognition — some are recent inventions and others have obviously been around — but all of them have carved their niches on some level.
Obscure Non-NCAA Sports
- Quidditch: Quidditch, the creation of Harry Potter author JK Rowling, is no longer just a goofy game played by overgrown nerds pretending to be wizards and witches. In fact, it has become quite popular on campuses across America, where a growing number of college muggles are partaking in the action. Hundreds of colleges are either forming or have registered with the International Quidditch Association, which governs the sport. If you're not familiar with quidditch, it's involves carrying a broom between your legs to simulate flying, yet it also requires physical toughness. To put it in perspective, it's not really any more ridiculous than wearing tights and chasing around a prolate spheroid-shaped ball.
- Underwater Hockey (Octopush): Underwater hockey has a modest yet devoted group of participants. Currently, about 10 college programs compete nationally with the mission of reaching the U.S. National Underwater Hockey Tournament each summer. George Mason is one school that takes the sport seriously, offering an introductory class for players "wishing to take their game to the next level." Students unfamiliar with the sport who enroll learn that underwater hockey is essentially a combination of ice hockey (duh) and soccer. The object is to see who can push a three-pound lead plastic-covered puck into their opponents' unmanned goal with a foot-long handheld stick. Of course, since it all takes place underwater, a snorkel, diving mask and swimfins are required gear. A fun sport to play if you know how to hold your breath for extra-long intervals of time.
- Roller Derby: Perhaps because of its brutal nature and similarities to wrestling, roller derby isn't a widely organized sport found on college campuses. There are, however, small leagues throughout the country, including small college towns like State College, Pennsylvania, consisting of college students eager to express their pent-up aggression. The often female-dominated competition features a jammer, the scoring player, who attempts to score points by lapping members of the opposing team, which employs blockers for defense. The action is intense, as offense and defense are played simultaneously, making for a crowd-pleasing show. Toss in a few manufactured (or not) feuds and you can't help but stay immersed in the drama.
Obscure NCAA-Sanctioned Sports
- Squash: No longer just a sport mostly played by the Gordon Gekkos, and Frasier and Niles Cranes of the world, squash just narrowly missed being added to the 2012 Olympic Games and, as of now, is an organized women's college sport. The NCAA describes it as "a fast growing sport in the USA across all socio-economic strata," "offering wide opportunities previously not available for female athlete[s]." One time considered the "healthiest sport" by Forbes, squash requires both physical endurance and mental acuity for optimal success. Although it's not really a spectator sport, you can't help but marvel at the ability of its most skilled players.
- Rifle: Only in an NCAA-sanctioned sport like Rifle can a school like Alaska-Fairbanks claim a national championship. And really, it's good that smaller schools get a chance to complete at a high level in an athletic competition. In the case of Alaska-Fairbanks, it dominated the NCAA Rifle Championships during the last decade, winning it on eight occasions from 2000 to 2008. Overall, it has won 10 national championships — second only to West Virginia's 14. Given the widely accepted stereotypes of those two states, their proficiency at the sport shouldn't come as a surprise. What should come as a surprise, though, is the fact that Army and one of the Texas schools own only one national championship each.
- Fencing: Most Americans' exposure to fencing is limited to seeing it in movies such as The Princess Bride or The Mask of Zorro. But the centuries-old sport has been sanctioned by the NCAA for decades, originating in the Ivy League where schools such as Columbia and NYU built winning traditions. Today, there are more than 100 fencing programs across the country and both club and varsity teams compete. During their meets, three fencers from one school face-off against three fencers from another in five-touch bouts. Each season culminates with the NCAA Fencing team championship, where Penn State has reigned supreme 14 times in the last 21 years.
- Equestrian: Equestrian gained classification as an NCAA emerging sport in 1998 and has since strived to earn full NCAA championship status. Twenty-three colleges currently support equestrian at a varsity level and 17 more are needed in order for it to become legitimate. For the time being, the all-female participants compete in the Varsity Equestrian National Championship each year to determine the best in the sport. In 2010, Georgia won the VENC national championship and Hunter Seat team championship for the fifth time respectively, and Texas A&M won the Western championship for the fourth time. Much like with rifle, the schools you'd generally expect to succeed in equestrian do tend to experience the most success. Texas A&M, after all, was founded as an agricultural school.
- Bowling: Contrary to popular belief, bowling isn't entirely played by overweight, beer belly-bearing middle-aged men. You won't find any John Goodman-types competing in the sport on the NCAA level, probably because it's limited to women, none of whom look like the typical gals you'd find at your local alley. These mean, lean, pin-blasting machines are conditioned to take home NCAA Bowling Championships. Nebraska in particular has procured the most talented women's bowlers through the years, winning eight national championships since 1991 — three since women's bowling became an NCAA-sanctioned sport. The program's success can be partially attributed to its pipeline of international players, such as Valerie Calberry (Canada), Danielle van der Meer (The Netherlands) and Shalima Zalsha (Indonesia) on 2010 squad. Who knew bowling and Nebraska had such worldwide appeal?
- Rowing: Rowing may not be comparable to sports such as football and basketball when it comes to popularity, but the physical strength and stamina exhibited by rowers is worth watching. For example, all races in the NCAA Rowing Championship are 2,000 meters long and, of course, require continuous rowing from competing teams. To carry on through an entire season of the sport, it takes a well-sculpted upper body and disciplined teamwork. Naturally, schools located in coastal states, including Virginia, Stanford, Brown, California and Radcliffe and Washington, have claimed all of the national championships since the event was first held in 1997.
- Field Hockey: Field hockey is pretty self-explanatory — it's hockey, without ice, rollerblades or water, played on a field typically composed of synthetic turf. You could also say it resembles soccer, as both sports, in most cases, feature 11 players on the field from each team during a game. It's an underrated, low-maintenance, and fun-looking activity that hasn't caught on unlike other variations of hockey, even though it has been an NCAA-sanctioned sport for women for 30 years. When perusing the college field hockey rankings through the years, the programs you'll most often find residing at the top include Old Dominion, Maryland, North Carolina and Wake Forest. The Upper South and East Coast is a hotbed for the sport, much like lacrosse.