Club sports encounter obstacles due to gap between interest and resources
Published: Thursday, October 25, 2012
Updated: Thursday, October 25, 2012 01:10
The Tufts women’s club soccer team has the players and the attitude, but lack access to a field at Tufts on which they can play.
“We haven’t had any home games at Tufts, and it’s a shame because I think people would like to come out and play and support us,” women’s club soccer captain Katie Chace, a senior, said.
Women’s soccer is a Tier II recreational club sport, a distinction that grants them the use of the Tufts name but no guarantee to resources because a varsity soccer team already exists at Tufts. Club baseball, tennis and ice hockey teams also fall into this category.
“For us it’s frustrating because we have 40 to 50 girls who want to play club soccer, and that Tier II distinction doesn’t say anything for the interest in our sport,” Chace said.
Tufts’ Tier I club sports may apply for funding from the Tufts Community Union (TCU) Senate and access the Department of Athletics resources including trainers and fields. However, even the captains of these teams, including Ultimate Frisbee and cycling, said the support that the Department of Athletics is able to give and the money they receive from the Senate’s budget for club sports doesn’t match the interest and level of competitiveness of their players.
“It’s frustrating,” women’s club Ultimate Frisbee captain Hailey Alm, a senior, said. “[We’ve been] pretty competitive in the past couple years, and we’re going to be really competitive this year. We came out third in the nation out of all the college teams last year.”
A widening gap between the popularity of club sports and the respective resources of the Department of Athletics and TCU Senate is pushing the limits of what each team can have access to, according to Assistant Director of Athletics Branwen Smith−King, who manages funding and logistics for Tier II club sports.
“We’ve added seven Tier II sports, and we took on three club sports in the past two years ... we embraced it. We just don’t have space. We’re underfunded in a lot of programs, and we had to make that known to the groups up front,” Smith−King said. “We’ve added ten more programs without additional resources and staffing ... and that’s in addition to everything else we’re doing in this department.”
Difficulty finding field time for extra practices, for instance, or unclear paperwork processes with tight deadlines and extra hoops to jump through if the team wants to travel to compete stand in the way of the players’ ability to meet their potential, according to Alm.
According to Alm, the Ultimate Frisbee team cannot travel to competitions due to insurance worries and transportation limitations. They also face difficulties scheduling additional practices due to issues securing field space, she said.
Co−captain of the club cycling team Alex Grant, a senior, said organizing races for the team and petitioning to travel outside of New England, among other logistical struggles, have occasionally caused headaches for the team.
“It’s a frustrating process,” Grant said. “There [have] been times when we [waited] a month or more for simple reimbursements.”
He agreed that the resources at Tufts devoted to club sports are stretched thin.
“When you go in person, [the Department of] Athletics is very helpful. Branwen and [Carol Rappolli, club sports director and head varsity lacrosse coach] are trying to do everything they can without the resources, it’s just clear they don’t have the time ... because they have other jobs,” he said. “I see the difficult place they’re in.”
According to Smith−King, it comes down to Tufts being a Division III school without the same resources as Division I or II schools to devote to athletics.
“You look at Division I programs, and if you look at their website they have a club sport office. They have a staff, they have a director, they have an administrative assistant. They have buildings ... and fields for club sports,” she said. “It’s just different, because they have the resources. We could grow our club sports program forever, just look at our location and the interest of our students. That’s a huge challenge for us, we wish we could do more.”
For Tier II club sports, frustration — over the need to charge fees to players who join the team and the lack of access to the resources to meet the enthusiasm −— is even more pronounced, particularly as a result of a lack of communication.
“We don’t ever feel like we’re being worked with,” Chace said.
The Department of Athletics has responded to increased demand for club sports by implementing the tiered system, Smith−King said.
“I think it’s amazing how the popularity of club sports has risen. Three years ago, groups were interested in becoming more than just an intramural team, they wanted to play ... off campus against other schools,” she said.
According to Smith−King, at the same time, junior varsity (JV) programs have largely been dropped because not many universities and colleges were carrying JV teams. For instance, Tufts eliminated its junior varsity teams in soccer and tennis because of a lack of funding and because the teams simply could not find junior varsity matches at other schools.