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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Alumni, Athletics, and Associations: A phenomenological study of NCAA Division I revenue sport alumni fandom

  • Author(s): Epstein, Eliza Morse Bentley
  • Advisor(s): Kellner, Douglas
  • et al.

National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA) sports are a century-old institution rich with tradition and, more recently, rife with controversy. The NCAA--the governing board of college sports--and activist student-athletes (alongside former players) are battling in the media over enormous sums of money and player rights. This contest mirrors the head to head action of the college game, and leaves fans, the driving consumers, on the sidelines. The purpose of this study was to develop a deeper understanding of the phenomenon of NCAA Division I revenue sport alumni fandom and to examine more closely the unique quality of the alumni fan's relationship with his/her alma mater. I observed and conducted unstructured interviews at alumni association-organized viewing parties and completed semi-structured interviews with three University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) alumni fans. I also analyzed alumni association documents to identify the frequency with which the associations employed the university's sports teams as a tool of engagement with alumni. Analysis of the data reveals alumni feel a strong connection to sports teams of their alma mater, and that they clearly distinguish their alma mater fandom from their professional sports fandom. Findings also indicate that NCAA sports bring alumni fans together, generate collective effervescence, and help to strengthen interpersonal relationships by creating a team of fans who identify the school's sports within themselves and recognize themselves in student-athletes and other fans. While limited in scale, the study's findings suggest alumni fandom should be considered as changes to the institution of NCAA revenue sports are studied and proposed.

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