Boost collegiate sports with launch of UNIVAS, Japan’s version of NCAA

The Yomiuri ShimbunCan this new organization provide an opportunity to increase the popularity of collegiate sports?

The Japan Association for University Athletics and Sport (UNIVAS) started to accept membership applications on Monday. UNIVAS will be established in March with the status of a general incorporated association intended to collectively govern collegiate sports clubs and teams.

The organization is expected to improve athletic performance and to develop a new sports business market.

UNIVAS is modeled after the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) of the United States. The NCAA has about 1,100 member colleges and earns an annual profit of about ¥100 billion through the sale of broadcasting rights for basketball games among others. It is said that U.S. collegiate sports as a whole, including the NCAA, earn about ¥800 billion.

In Japan, the government has set a target of expanding the sports business market to ¥15 trillion, or about threefold the 2012 level, by 2025. The idea of establishing UNIVAS has been refined to be part of the road map for that endeavor.

School sports club activities are supported by such organizations as the All Japan High School Athletic Federation and the Nippon Junior High School Physical Culture Association. Yet there is no organization for uniting colleges. Instead, there are only associations for each sport or region.

Colleges, for their part, lack proper strategies for conducting sports business because collegiate athletic clubs are positioned as extracurricular activities. Even when they have star athletes who are Olympians or equivalents, it is difficult to say that they sufficiently use those athletes’ value to make competitive sports more prosperous.

The Tokyo-Hakone Collegiate Ekiden relay race is an exceptional event in this respect.

Produce tangible results

The preparatory committee to set up UNIVAS has been joined by about 100 schools. It also includes more than 20 sports associations. Yet those schools account for only about 10 percent of domestic colleges and junior colleges. Some colleges are negative about the organization, viewing membership in it as having little or no benefit. It is probably difficult for them to envision the concrete activities of the organization.

Before anything else, UNIVAS must produce tangible results one by one. It already plans to distribute video recordings of athletic competitions, start an awards system and train instructors. There is also a plan to host an intercollegiate competition involving multiple sports. If rival schools in non-urban areas are given an opportunity to vie for championships based on their total scores obtained in the featured sports, it may help to revitalize their regions.

There are also possibilities for creating enormous economic value depending on how UNIVAS effectively carries out projects. In order to expand the range of the organization’s activities, it is desirable for many more colleges to join.

UNIVAS will also serve as a bridge between corporate sponsors and athletic associations. It is expected the organization will raise the profile of competitions in sports that are not major ones.

The organization is also expected to play a leadership role when it is necessary to deal with problems in which the management system of sports clubs is questioned, such as the scandal involving a dangerous tackle committed by the American football team of Nihon University. Drawing up guidelines on compliance is an important issue.

UNIVAS will be run with fees from member schools, corporate financial support and governmental subsidies. Its secretariat will start with about 10 staff members and is planned to double in number in three years. It is indispensable to invite a broad range of personnel who can win the confidence of member schools.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan. 8, 2019)Speech


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