While most college football teams are still dealing with early-season rust, there is another group of fellow student athletes who will be at the peak of their game and competing for a national collegiate championship.
They are school-sanctioned anglers, and the sport is college bass fishing. Not only does fishing share interests with more than 40 million fans of its own – it just might be the fastest growing team participation activity on campuses today. By the time the BoatU.S. National Collegiate Bass Fishing Championship (NCBFC) takes place on Lake Lewisville near Dallas, Sept. 27 – 29, it is expected that 100 two-person teams representing 50 schools and universities from across the nation will compete for the title.
The current registration of more than 160 participants already has it positioned to be the largest collegiate bass fishing event ever held. The speed in which the program has grown since last year’s inaugural tournament, and the manner in which corporate sponsors have stepped up in support, have set the stage for this to be a showcase event for college sports and the sport of fishing.
“I’ve been involved in and around bass tournaments for 30 years or so, but I’ve never seen anything quite like the response to this whole collegiate bass fishing scene,” said Wade Middleton, tournament director for the NCBFC. “Several of the program’s sponsors are on board because they tracked us down after hearing about the event and wanted to become involved. As diverse as the group is, the message from each was basically the same: ‘This is fun, exciting and our future. Count us in.’”
Middleton went on to explain what some sponsors have done or are doing to help take this collegiate fishing program to the next level.
BoatU.S., the Boat Owners Association of the United States, along with its companion BoatU.S. Angler program, have returned as the championship’s title sponsors for the second year. Their commitment has played a significant role in launching the NCBFC that was created by Fox College Sports. The network will air a 13-episode series starting in January 2008.
Ranger Boats is another returning supporter and will put the five top teams competing on the final competition day in 40th Anniversary Edition Z-21 bass boats equally rigged with Yamaha outboards and Garmin electronics. Stearns, long known as a leader in personal flotation devices, is providing identical travel stipends of $250 each for every team registered in the championship.
Cabela’s, famous for its mail order catalogs and destination retail stores, is sponsoring a unique event during the championship called “College Day.” On an evening after one of the practice days, all participants will be given a $100 Cabela’s gift certificate and bussed to a nearby Cabela’s store for a shopping spree, while being accompanied by several of the country’s top pro anglers to help with their purchase decisions.
Anglers’ Legacy, a share-the-passion program of the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation, is once again supporting collegiate fishing participation by offering a program that rewards school fishing organizations that grow their membership by recruiting new-to-fishing anglers.
The unique support by each of the NCBFC sponsors goes on and on for every company involved, which reads a lot like a “Who’s Who” list of the outdoor world. In addition to those already named, other sponsors include: Costa Del Mar, Pioneer Beef Jerky, Quantum, EGO Nets, Sebile, American Rodsmiths, Aviva Fishin’ Buddy, Biosonix, Bill Lewis Lures, Gene Larew Lures, Nemire Lures, Keelshield, City of Lewisville, Sneaky Pete’s Marina, the Collegiate Bass Anglers Association and Fox College Sports.
North Carolina State returns to the 2007 NCBFC as the defending champion, but for them to repeat the title just might be the most difficult challenge in all of collegiate sports. That’s because in fishing, the proverbial level playing field really is “level,” since participation is more about having the desire to be involved than it is about having the biggest and best players, schools and resources. In fact, one of the smaller schools, Stephen F. Austin State University of Nacogdoches, Texas, is the country’s top ranked fishing team going into the championship.
But even in collegiate fishing, the same kind of rivalries that have followed football and basketball teams for decades also exist. While some are inherited from longstanding inter- and intra-conference play in the other sports, many are new and unique to fishing as a result of previous head-to-head competitions that have already occurred.
Rivalries aside, more important to the companies watching and getting involved in collegiate bass fishing are all of the positive things that come with engaging the college-aged demographic in a sport that for so long was mostly passed from one generation to the next.
While times are different in today’s changing America, the newfound passion for fishing by many college students serves as further proof of what some 40 million Americans already know … there’s nothing quite like having a fish tug on the other end of the line.
To keep up with the growing list of schools and teams participating in the NCBFC and to follow the daily weigh-ins during the championship, visit the official site of the NCBFC, www.foxsports.com/fcs/bass, or the official sponsor site for the tournament, www.collegiatebasschampionship.com.
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