Club Athletes aren’t just players on a team; they are the grounds crew, trainer, and marketing managers.
Club sports, the second-tiered athletics program most universities have, are similar to NCAA programs in every way except for funding. While the university subsidizes NCAA teams, club athletes are forced to finance their team on their own.
The funding for club teams begins with membership fees. The lacrosse team’s charges its players $2,500, the women’s water polo $500, and the cheer team $300.
These fees don’t cover all the necessary expenses, so teams have to branch out in order to raise money.
“Right now we are planning our biggest fundraiser yet… We are hoping to raise $10,000,” said Evan Forayter, president of the Lacrosse Club. “We send a friends-and-family letter asking for donations, and we sold meal cards last year.”
The money goes towards hiring coaches, arranging transportation, buying uniforms, reserving fields, and all other requirements necessary to field a team. Club athletes are forced to coordinate all this themselves on top of going to school while NCAA athletes have an athletic department doing it for them.
This poses serious issues for club sports teams, one of the biggest being the quality of coaching available. While Forayter said the lacrosse team “lucked out” with its coach, others haven’t been as fortunate.
The cheer team has hired volunteer coaches in order to cut costs. Maija Lazenby, junior cheer captain, said she feels like her team got “the short end of the stick.” Their coaches aren’t formally certified and have roughly the same knowledge as their players since their qualification is being an ex-cheerleader.
“The current coach is another one who used to be on the team and she graduated last year,” said Lazenby.
The problem for club teams is that the school doesn’t have enough money to finance more NCAA recognized teams.
“We are just about getting by… I’m not sure how we would fund another sport. We would need additional funding,” said Anita Barker, the head of the Chico State athletic department.
It’s not up to the athletic department which teams get recognized as official sports. It’s money that’s the biggest determining factor. While the athletic department is in charge of how that money is spent, a team must meet certain requirements before the department entertains the idea.
Barker outlined three important criteria that have to be met in order to officially recognize a team: competition, costs, and facilities, all of which have financial strings attached to them.
The competition requirement is two-fold. There have to be enough schools to compete against, and they must be relatively close. Barker said that a major reason the football team was dropped in 1997 was that there were only five other Division II football programs west of the Rockies. The travel expenses were too expensive and there wasn’t strong enough conference competition to make it a viable sport to keep.
Costs and facilities are intertwined. “We are talking about salaries for coaches, infrastructure costs… travel expenses, equipment expenses, insurance and, on top of that, scholarship dollars,” Barker said. All of this plus practice and game facilities have to be accounted for which can be expensive.
All club sports don’t have a home field by its classic definition.
This is where club athletes are most disenchanted. There is no feeling of protecting one’s turf. Practice and game times have to be scheduled far in advance. Often the field club athletes play on are public fields that must be shared with youth sports teams. Furthermore, keeping the field in playable condition is their responsibility
Lazenby said the cheer team has a tough time reserving a space to practice. If they can’t secure a location, they practice outside on the concrete or cancel it all together.
Coupled with the risk of poor coaching, this can affect a team’s chance of success.
Both Lazenby and Forayter agreed they would love to see their teams become NCAA recognized but neither sees it happening any time soon.
“I don’t see lacrosse becoming an NCAA sport here at Chico anywhere in the next 10 years to be honest,” Forayter said. “It’s a money issue. And I mean we see that every year. As students you see less and less classes available. They are paying teachers less, cutting teachers, and classes. It just goes to show you we don’t have money to fund more sports teams.”
The school would love to add more sports to their department but it comes down to being fair, Barker said. The ultimate goal of a team is to compete for a championship. If the school can’t properly fund a team to give it a fighting chance for the title, the team won’t be recognized as an NCAA sport.