One of the most popular trends in American collegiate athletics is the growing number of international student-athletes which, according to a report from the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), is up more than 1,000 percent over the last 10 years.
Despite the popularity, coming from another country to participate in college athletics is difficult for multiple reasons. First, the “American skill set” is often different for the student-athletes.
“The game is still here, but the aspects of the game are complicated to a higher level,” redshirt freshman football player Jukka Rysgaard said. Rysgaard graduated high school from the Thisten Gymnasium in Thisted, Denmark.
Second, with rules and regulations from the NCAA, international athletes can find it challenging to make a clean transfer to the American system.
According to NCAA regulations, almost 90 percent of amateurism violations found by the NCAA Eligibility Center staff are committed by international prospective student-athletes, though only about five percent of registrants come from outside the United States.
This is not to say that international students are, by any means, trying to cut corners. In most cases, it means that the system can be difficult to pass through.
“First of all, we don’t know all the rules and regulations when we come over here,” Henrik Holmberg said. “Second, I don’t think we have the same culture back in Europe as [the U.S.] when it comes to regulations in track and college. That’s one of the reasons why it’s so complicated.”
In addition to the challenges, international students face many positive experiences while competing in American collegiate atheltics.
The students are able to experience school spirit on a whole new level in the states, as many of the athletes have never competed for their schools.
“It’s a little weird playing for a school’s team,” Rysgaard said. “It puts you in different roles and gives you a different context.”
Holmberg also notes that the emphasis placed on sports in the states presents opportunities for success. “If you want to go pro, I would tell them to get a good school in the U.S. and go over and have that experience. You do develop as an athlete, which is really important,” Holmberg said. “I would definitely tell them to go, but choose their school with caution, really talk to the coaches and get to know the environment. That’s important to know the school fits you.”
According to Donn Grinager, Director of International Programs at Augustana College, there are 11 international student-athletes competing in various sports during the 2012-2013 academic year.