In France, and probably in some other countries, university players of team sports are generally divided into tiered teams, with the strongest players going to the strongest team ("team one"), and progressively weaker players in subsequent teams.

For context, the strongest team will generally play in national college competitions, while others may play in smaller leagues or not play in competitive leagues at all.

Is there a concise way to call the strongest team in English? Is "varsity team" appropriate, or is that too US/UK-centric if talking about a team in a non-anglophone country?

  • 1
    Do note that the US and UK have very different university-level sports systems, and the US system in particular is something of an outlier.
    – choster
    Commented Mar 6, 2018 at 0:11
  • 1
    The 'first eleven' (assuming there are 11 players) or 'first team'. Commented Mar 6, 2018 at 0:12

1 Answer 1


In most countries in the English-speaking world (including Britain and Australia), the strongest team is simply called the first team. The US is something of an exception, to my knowledge, where the first team is typically called the varsity team. This is sometimes used in Canada too. (Note that the word "varsity" is used in Britain, but typically only applied to matches between rivals, typically Oxford and Cambridge, and not as an adjective for a team.)

See the Wikipedia article on the usage of "varsity" for more information.

  • I would add, however, that U.S. varsity and junior varsity squads are those which have official university sponsorship, and are thus supplied with coaches, equipment, training facilities, and the like. Only sponsored teams are referred to as varsity — unsponsored teams are known as club teams — and this distinction is firm regardless of skill level or competitiveness, and there are no terms for distinguishing a more elite club from another.
    – choster
    Commented Mar 6, 2018 at 3:12
  • @choster Fair point, yes.
    – Noldorin
    Commented Mar 6, 2018 at 3:15
  • Do any cowardly drive-by down-voters care to justify themselves?
    – Noldorin
    Commented Mar 6, 2018 at 21:39
  • "First team" is also often abbreviated to "Firsts" in BrE.
    – AndyT
    Commented Mar 7, 2018 at 10:59
  • @AndyT: It is indeed, though I'd say it's also very common that it's just left as "first team". Depends what institution you're at, probably.
    – Noldorin
    Commented Mar 8, 2018 at 3:05

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