Over the next few days Keele University take on Staffordshire University in something called Varsity. In my early days this academic year I was often asked if I’d played ‘Varsity’. I had to say I didn’t know what it was!
The structure of university sport has changed a lot since the seventies. Back then there was the Universities Athletic Union, the UAU. The English UAU was further broken down into regional subdivisions: the Midlands UAU, Northwest UAU (both of which Keele played in in my time), and so on. You’d play qualifying matches against universities in your region or sub-region, no matter how big or small they were. So in my first year, we had to play Birmingham, about five times the number of students then
Each regional winner (at football, as in most sports, usually the mighty Loughborough Colleges) then played off to find the national champion (ditto, Loughborough!) There were also teams selected from universities to represent the region in a knockout competition against other regions. At the pinnacle of that was the full England UAU team which competed against the other home nations at the end of the relevant season
All that has changed. All university sport is now run under the auspices of BUCS, (British Universities and Colleges Sport. There are 187 (yes, 187!) educational institutions in BUCS, most running multiple teams in many sports. Keele, for example, run 5 football teams. Because of this proliferation, there’s no longer a simple regional structure. Instead, there’s a pyramid system similar to that in professional football. To my mind this is much fairer, though it does deprive universities like Keele of the opportunity, unless and until they get better, of playing at the fantastic facilities of Nottingham, Birmingham et al.
So in men’s football there is a premier North, and a Premier South. Then there are leagues 1 to 7, all of them further subdivided regionally. Keele 1sts are in Northern 4C, which they’ve won, so will get promoted. By contrast Loughborough 4s are in Midlands 3B.
Some things do change though. The men’s football knockout cup was won by Cardiff Met, who beat Northumbria in the final. Loughborough were knocked out in the quarter finals by the eventual winners. Others do not. There is a totting up points process for all teams across all sports to determine the top sporting university. Loughborough have won it every year going back to 2005-6 (nothing earlier on the website) with Durham as runners up for the past six years
Keele has finished 74th: a respectable mid-table position between the University of Hull and Edinburgh Napier University.
But back to Varsity! Keele will be taking on Staffordshire at 22 different sports, staring with American football on Sunday and ending late on Wednesday with men’s basketball. Keele have held the bragging rights for the past 7 years and will not give them up easily!
I believe this sort of competition is being repeated across the country. In fact the fixture between Sussex and Brighton was abandoned last week due to trouble (alcohol fuelled?) at the rugby and American football games. I’m sure the genteel students of Keele and Staffordshire won’t let their respective universities down!
I’ll keep you posted!