Club Sports Dream of D-1 Glory, Know the Day May Never Arrive

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March 5, 2013 by conteconfidential

The sun’s not even up when the men’s rowing team travels to the Charles River for a 6 a.m. practice every weekday. For two grueling hours, the team goes out on the water and braves the low temperatures and bone-chilling wind, all to represent Boston College at regattas throughout the Northeast.

Some days, the team members end up practicing inside the boat house with the women’s rowing team. The two teams use the same equipment, compete at many of the same events and share a space. But, unlike the members of the women’s team, each member has to pay $1,500 out of his own pocket to be there.

“It’s tough to convince everybody on the team that it’s worth $1,500,” said the 2011/2012 men’s rowing captain and president Ross Tremblay. “They see the women’s team right next to us every morning paying nothing to use the exact same equipment, go on more training trips than us and go to a lot of the same races that we do.”

Men’s crew at BC is a club team, supported mainly by dues, while women’s crew is a Division 1 team paid for by the university. That’s because Title IX requires that athletic budgets be divided up based on the proportion of men and women in the student body.

And as the proportion of women enrolled at BC and other schools increases, spending on sports for men like Tremblay and his crewmates to play D-1 is shrinking, and they have to start or join club teams to be able to compete.

With women now making up 53 percent of its student body, BC has to spend more on women’s athletics than on men’s. Men’s D-1 lacrosse, water polo and wrestling, all once university teams, have been cut in recent years.

Since then, lacrosse and water-polo players have started club teams. Men’s rowing has remained a club sport.

Rowing and lacrosse have had a lot of success. The lacrosse team has gone to the Men’s Collegiate Lacrosse Association national tournament seven of the last 10 years, and the men’s rowing team has been tearing up the New England Championships, taking first place in novice eights this year and in varsity fours in 2007.

But without university support, these teams struggle to pay for travel and equipment. The money they get from the Club Sports Council—funded from student activity fees—isn’t enough, and members have to pay dues.

Dues for the rowing team are $1,500 a year, according to Tremblay. For lacrosse, the amount varies between $1,500 and $2,000, said the 2011/2012 men’s lacrosse president Kyle McPartland. Many members of each team work in concessions at BC games to pay these dues.

The Club Sports Council hands out money for club sports, for which the budget last year was raised to $150,000 from $100,000. But that money has to be split between 22 club teams.

Tremblay and McPartland argue that the money their teams get from the Club Sports Council isn’t nearly enough to help them compete at the high level they want to.

“It’s difficult to fund a nationally competitive team, as we must travel great distances and equip our team fully with most of the money coming out of player pockets,” McPartland said.

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Men’s rowing teams compete in the 2011 Head of the Charles Regatta (photo credit: Jen Dobias)

The rowing team, said Tremblay, gets $7,000 to $9,000 a year. Without the additional $15,000 to $20,000 in contributions from alumni, he said, the team wouldn’t be able to stay on the water. The lacrosse team, said McPartland, gets from $7,000 to $10,000 a year, which he said doesn’t cover much more than league dues and referee fees.

While players on D-1 teams have their schedules mapped out for them and their finances taken care of, the officers of club teams have to decide how to spend their money. Doing everything from choosing tournaments to buying new equipment makes life more stressful for officers than for players on university-supported teams.

“If we were a varsity team that would be somebody’s job to make those decisions all of the time,” Tremblay said.

But there are some good things about having control of the money because it lets the student athletes take charge of their teams.

“The benefit of being a club sport is that the students are much more influential in the success of the program as we are the ones who run the administrative operations,” McPartland said.

That doesn’t make it any easier for the men’s rowing and lacrosse teams to watch their women’s counterparts get more for less, however.

While women’s rowing is overseen by the NCAA, men’s rowing is governed by the Intercollegiate Rowing Association. This shouldn’t stop BC from elevating the men’s rowing team to the D-1 level like area schools Northeastern, Harvard and Boston University, Tremblay said, but he admitted he can’t see it happening because of Title IX.

It also doesn’t look like D-1 men’s lacrosse will be coming back to BC anytime soon, said former Athletics Director Gene DeFilippo in the 2010 Athletics Annual Report. He said that’s because BC gives scholarships to men’s ice hockey players, which eats up money that could go to other teams. Only four ACC universities have men’s lacrosse, and none of these schools have ice hockey.

“Hockey is a big and important sport here at Boston College, so I do not see the addition of men’s lacrosse any time in the future,” he said. “We cannot be everything to everybody.”

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BC has used the presence of the men’s hockey team as a justification for why the school cannot add D-1 men’s lacrosse, though the matter is hardly that simple (photo credit: Jen Dobias)

But McPartland pointed out that the University of Michigan recently raised its men’s club lacrosse team to D-1 even though they have a hockey program, showing that it’s possible to have both if the school is willing to doll out some extra cash.

“I’m not sure how they did it, but I would love to know,” he said.

For now, BC’s rowing and lacrosse players will have to be happy with their club status and their pay-to-play set ups.

Money problems aren’t the only challenges facing these club teams. Recruiting talent is hard because potential members sometimes don’t take them seriously.

“They think that we’re a club sport in the same way that Frisbee is a club sport,” Tremblay said. “We’re trying to convince them that the only difference between us and another varsity sport here is that we have to pay to compete.”

Even if teams can find talent, they struggle to get in practice time because there isn’t enough field space.

“Our practice schedule depends entirely on field space, and there are times where we practice five days in a row and then weeks where we have one practice,” McPartland said.

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BC’s D-1 men’s lacrosse, water polo and wrestling programs were all cut in 2002 (photo credit: Carl Kafka)

Lack of space makes it hard not only to run a team at BC, but to start one. Just ask Jason Robinson.

During the 2008/2009 school year, the 2012 graduate led a movement to bring wrestling back. Robinson, who had wrestled since middle school, wasn’t satisfied with working out at the Wai Kru MMA Gym in Brighton. After finding out many of his friends were wrestlers, he thought they should start a club team.

Robinson and his friends sent in their proposal, and, as they waited for the decision, spread the word through fliers and a Facebook page called “Revive Boston College Wrestling.”

But it wasn’t to be. Their proposal was denied because of lack of funding and recreational space, according to Robinson.

The next year, the group started traveling to Wai Kru MMA Gym where they grappled with semi-pro fighters.

“It was actually fortunate, because a lot of their semi-pro fighters weren’t adept in wrestling or at their ground game, so we found a place to fit right into,” Robinson said.

As the winter carried on, though, people in the group began to drift away. By the three-month mark, the movement was dead. Its spirit, said Robinson, lives on in Sigma Phi Epsilon of Boston College, a fraternity many of the wrestlers joined.

“Instead of merely athletic pursuits, we took our club into a more inclusive organization that spanned into other co-curriculars, like philanthropy, academics and programming,” he said.

Water-polo aficionados did start a club when the D-1 team was cut in 2002. The team has done well at the club level, but its members don’t have the D-1 dreams of lacrosse and rowing.

“BC’s pool isn’t regulation size, so it’s pretty hard to build a fan base when fans can’t come to your games. We know we’re a low priority for BC,” senior Ian Malone said. “I don’t think [becoming D-1] would be a good idea with the current limitations of the facilities.”

The yearly allotment of $4,500 for water polo covers all the team’s costs and there are no dues, according to Malone. For the players, being on the team is a way to stay involved in a sport they’ve been playing for most of their lives in a relaxed environment.

“Club sports are the way to go,” Malone said. “It’s nice to have the time to focus on school and my other interests while still being able to play.”

But that’s not what lacrosse and rowing are all about, and they’re still waiting for the day that will probably never come.

“Crew and lacrosse are basically the two teams waiting there to see if they could possibly get a spot,” Tremblay said. “But unless something was to happen with NCAA legislation where Title IX wasn’t taken as literally as it has been, I honestly don’t see that happening.”

By Jen Dobias

(Please note: This enterprise article was originally written in the fall of 2011 for an advanced journalism class. It has been updated to reflect the changes that have occurred in the past year as much as possible. It was not published before and was posted here because of the increased interest in BC adding a D-1 lacrosse team after Syracuse moved to the ACC, leaving the ACC only one team short of an automatic bid into the NCAA tournament.)

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