Varsity is an alteration and shortening of the term university. The meaning differs depending on the region, but is usually related to sporting activity.
In the United Kingdom, varsity team or varsity club refers to groups participating in varsity matches in sport or other competitions between rival universities, most famously Oxford University vs. Cambridge University; also King's College London vs. University College London, University of Bristol vs. University of the West of England and University of Sheffield vs. Sheffield Hallam University, among others. The term originally referred strictly to university-sponsored teams, and dates from the 1840s.
In the United States and Canada varsity teams are the principal athletic teams representing a college, university, high school, or other secondary school. Such teams compete against similar teams at corresponding educational institutions. Groups of varsity sports teams are often organized into athletic conferences, which are groups of teams that regularly play each other during a given athletic season. In recognition of their high level of performance, athletes on varsity teams are often given varsity letters. They are in contrast to the institution's club sports. A major difference between varsity and club sports is the source for allocated funds. Varsity teams receive financial support, equipment, and facilities from college and university athletic department budgets. Universities often allocate club sport budgets through student life departments similar to other clubs on campus. Because club sports cost more than other clubs, many club student-athletes must pay to play and also engage in team fundraising efforts to pay for facilities time, equipment, and other team expenses. At various levels of collegiate sports, varsity student athletes are eligible for scholarships solely or partially based on athletic skills.
In the Netherlands, the Varsity is the oldest and most prestigious rowing race. It was held for the first time in 1878, and was started as a Dutch equivalent for the Boat Race between Oxford and Cambridge.