Published on February 19, 2013 | by Kane Tuckwell0
A sporting chance to study in the US
Nowadays most undergraduates have to accept that they will spend around £9,000 a year on tuition fees, rent and travel. For Jack Bailey that is not something he has to think about.
When Bailey left for university two years ago he was not just driving down the M1, he was flying 4,000 miles around the world to play football for Limestone College in South Carolina.
He initially started his footballing career playing for Norwich City. His time at Carrow Road left him with some bittersweet memories: “My time at Norwich was important; I learned a lot and became a better player. I was playing under top coaches and alongside very talented players.
“I was hoping to get a good contract, I thought I did enough. I wasn’t the best in the team but I felt like I had a lot to offer.” The coaches apparently did not share the same view and let Jack go shortly after he turned 18.
“I was distraught, not going to lie! I didn’t feel good at all. I was there for a while and I honestly just expected to get a contract.”
Jack understood football is a business and there is little room for sentimentality in today’s game, but he still felt mistreated.
“In my opinion they didn’t let me go in a very professional way. They just got me in a room and said they wouldn’t be offering me a new contract. It was completely out of the blue. I was gutted, I just felt like crying.”
Within days, Jack realised this may have been a blessing in disguise: “I found out about the opportunity to go to America when I was playing for Norwich City. My coach mentioned it before I was let go by the club. As soon as I got home, I sat down and talked with my parents and decided to go out to the States and give it a go,” said the youngster.
For many people making the decision to travel halfway around the world on a gamble as uncertain as a career in professional
football would take weeks, if not months. Not so for Bailey.
“I contacted my agent and he got on the phone straight away to teams in the States that had a decent university nearby. I signed up late to get over, so the first team that offered me a place I accepted and signed for. It was a big risk but ended up being the best decision I’ve ever made.”
Welcome to America
Every student remembers the first day in halls. A thin wall between you and the people you will be living with for the next year and the realisation that you have to officially take care of yourself.
The ex-City man recalls, “The first few weeks were very weird. I don’t think it had settled into my head that I’m actually living in America. No more family, close friends, Nando’s and fry-ups.
“I was in an apartment on my own with a few team-mates living down the corridor that I had met on the first day.”
Jack was not the only person in his position, the scholarship system for students from outside America is surprisingly popular. “Luckily my team has 20 non-Americans in it. Six American and the rest European/South American and Asian.”
When asked about being an Englishman in America he laughed, winked and replied: “It’s a godsend with the lady friends!
“Everywhere I speak, I get looked at; most people make me repeat things, most people try and mimic what I say so they can try and sound like me.
“I was shopping in a mall in Atlanta, Georgia. I was in Ralph Lauren and asked for a T-shirt in a size. The lady that worked there was shocked to say the least, and started laughing. She then asked whether I could say ‘Charlie bit me and it hurt Mummy’ so I said it about five times not realising until I had finished that about 60 people were around me, videoing the performance, taking pictures and everything. It goes down pretty well!”
While football is what took Jack to America, the college system out there is designed to attract star athletes and then use sport to help them progress in further education.
Bailey’s scholarship is a “full-ride,” which is the maximum amount a coach can offer (only two per cent of High-school students receive any form of athletic scholarship). The ‘full-ride’ means that his scholarship covers 100 per cent of the costs of his tuition, room, board and books. So the only thing he has to worry about is money for his flights back home for Christmas.
“It’s all scholarship-based over in America. I didn’t need to take any loans out back home because I got a good offer from my team.
“I am studying Sports Management and Business which is a pretty good major for me as I am looking to obviously try and play professional first but if not, go into coaching and try and start my own business.”
As the conversation steered towards football Jack’s enthusiasm for the game was obvious, he was interested in telling the rest of his story but this was the area he was evidently most passionate about.
“Training is hard, very physical and intense but extremely good for fitness and ball work. We have an English assistant coach who does very good sessions. It’s like being back at Norwich, to be honest, but in 30º heat. Games are hard because of the heat but once you get used to it, it’s fine as the teams you come up against whilst still being of a good standard are not of the calibre of the academy teams in England.”
Luckily, this hasn’t slowed his development: “I am much fitter than I was before I came out here and the other players come from different footballing cultures so it is good for me to play against different styles and develop my own game.
“American football is the big sport over here but soccer is really up-and-coming. We get good crowds bringing a great atmosphere every week. Training and busting our ‘ass’ off every day is hard. But it’s all worth it when you get to play in big stadiums in front of great fans.
“Our college season is over now. My team (Limestone) won the league and cup double for the first time in the team’s history, which was brilliant,” claimed the Englishman.
When asked to sum up America with his three favourite moments he responded, “The crazy red cup keg parties are great and so is Spring break, drinks and dancing girls but for me the best part has to be playing in front of big crowds and winning some silverware.
“I would recommend studying in America, I return to England and a week later I’m bored. Out here I have a great girlfriend, I study a course I enjoy and I get to play football every day. It’s the best decision I have ever made.”
Sports scholarships are not offered in England, although students who play sport at an elite level may be offered bursaries. These rewards are barely comparable to what a student may be offered in the USA.
“England definitely needs to bring a college sports system in but I am not sure how it could work? There would need to be dramatic changes made to the funding system. It would be great to see it given a try though! It would help promote sport from a young age and offer a reason to work hard at school for those who usually wouldn’t.”
If a system like this was brought in here in the UK it would be up to the FA, the Premier League and other sporting institutes to help fund it. This has worked for cricket with the Lord’s funded Marylebone Cricket Club producing international cricket players including Andrew Strauss.
What does the future hold for Jack? With his degree in Sports Management and Business he has lots of options, although he still has his heart set on football.
“I’m not looking to go home after I graduate. I am looking to explore other avenues. I will either play here in America as I already have a few offers, or go over to Asia as my agent has been in touch with some teams out there. With the Asian leagues being pumped full of money and really starting to put themselves on the map it is definitely something that I will look at.”