Staff Editorial: Neglected women’s teams, coaches quitting, and women’s golf missing in action? Sports, we need to talk.
Sports have been a central point of many schools. Sports help create a sense of school pride.
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Sports have been a central point of many schools. Sports help create a sense of school pride. The programs create and build character in the athletes who participate. They are also a fun way to let off steam at the end of a long school week to cheer on the team. The Lombardi Program on Measuring University Performance states that, “American universities, public and private, have a long tradition of responding to the enthusiasms and values of American life. High-level competitive sports are one of America’s premier activities. Whether as participants or audience, Americans love their sports, they buy sports information, and they consume sports products at prodigious rates.”
While the rest of the world puts little to no emphasis on sports in university, sports have been a part of the framework of college campuses in the US since as early as 1840, when both Yale University and Harvard University started a rowing club. The two would match up for the first ever intercollegiate sports match in 1852. This has since been seen as a pivotal change in the makeup of college campuses.
Today, many schools have to accept the fact that athletic departments and sports help sell to potential students. So college administrators must balance the value of the school over the revenues generated by the athletics department. These are the issues that many public colleges face in today’s economy. Outside of the US, universities are generally publicly funded and non-profit organizations. So the need for sports is non-existent and the focus is instead put towards producing intelligent individuals rather than generating revenue.
But what about private universities? What about small, 4-year non-profit liberal arts school such as our own? During the recent economic crisis back in 2008, Sierra Nevada College was not immune to the financial blow. Many potential students were concerned whether spending the amount of money on tuition would benefit their interests in the long run. This has since affected the enrollment rates at many schools.
What better way to create incentive for enrolling than knowing you can continue to pursue the sport you have put so much time and effort into perfecting?
Sports have been a part of SNC culture, starting when the first men’s ski team competed in the NCSA (now the USCSA) in 1990, with just three athletes. The team has seen success ever since, with men earning 18 national titles and the women earning 20 national titles.
Competitive snowboarding and freeskiing came later in 2007 and went on to continue to the snow sports domination, adding to the over 300 individual and team titles currently held today. With the available mountains and terrain just minutes away from the campus, the level of success is There is no denying the validity of these sports.
Then lacrosse came in 2013. Lacrosse’s overall booming popularity was undeniable when more and more schools began adding their own program during a sharp rise in 2008. Insidelacrosse.com spoke to the obvious factor of this popularity. The sport is finding new ground, more D1 programs are becoming readily available and a professional future in a sport after college is more obtainable than ever before through lacrosse.
But that’s not all they found. The website also looks at three other factors. Those factors include “the sport’s desirable social demographic (essentially that means roughly 50 well-educated young men from predominantly wealthy families…a demo that’s especially desirable for small…private schools), conference affiliation (particularly amid conference realignment, how an athletic department viewed lacrosse as a mechanism for strengthening its position within the conference) or source active and interested parties outside of the athletic department (mostly donors, alumni or coaches with a vested interest in lacrosse).” These reasons align perfectly with SNC’s decision to pick up men’s and women’s lacrosse.
Since the program started, the men’s team has seen a quick rise to success. The Men’s lacrosse joined the Western Collegiate Lacrosse League (WCLL) division II in 2013 and took an undefeated season at 7-0. The next year would see similar success, with a 10-2 overall record (7-0 in their division) and got their first shot at nationals, losing to North Dakota State University. Now in their recent season and with a new coach, the 12-1 overall record (7-0 in their division) has proven the legitimacy of the men’s lacrosse program many potential recruits will be keeping a close eye because of it.
While the men’s program stock value continues to rise, a slump is seen on the women’s side. The women’s program began the same year and saw a near opposite result with an overall record of 1 win to 7 losses. The following year would begin to see improvement with an overall 4 wins and 6 losses. But since then, due to differing opinions from the athletes of how the program was being run, many left the team and another major deficit was recorded this year with 1 win and 6 losses. There does not seem to be much internal support for the women’s team, even with the hard work and effort put in.
Now in the 2015-2016 season, the addition of the NAIA has provided the school with three new sports programs in the form of soccer, cross country, and golf. Branko Zagar, the Athletics Director at SNC, believes this addition will garner positive results.
“Specifically for Athletic Department, the NAIA expansion will bring more recognition to the school and to the department.” Zagar said. “We are hoping that these programs will follow the success of Ski team and in couple years we will hopefully be just as successful.”
With the success of the of nearly every other program currently at SNC, it seems to make sense to add these teams. But from this season’s outcome, it may be time to take a closer look.
Soccer has always been a popular sports outlet as it has more international attention out of all the sports available. But a rough start at the beginning of the year would have men’s soccer taking the field in their first game with only 8 players (11 players maximum are allowed) due to paperwork issues. Even after getting the full team on the field, men’s soccer would end the season at 4-12. While the difficulties of starting a new team can always be apparent the first season, many soccer players mentioned that the coach, James Barlow, hardly ever showed up to practice, leaving the team to have to run practice on their own (the Equity in Athletics Data Analysis report done last year by Zagar states that head coaches are paid $17,000). Women’s soccer was not much different. Dealing with similar paperwork issues, 8 players would take the field in their first away games and would end their season at a similar 4-11.
Cross country is a cost friendly addition for a school of our size and the available terrain of Tahoe makes for a strong training ground. But even with these positive outlooks, the time and patience to build a new team must be present. This did not seem to be the case for the team. 5:30 am runs and tough running intervals made it stressful for the mixture of both seasoned and brand new runners.
“I’m not going to lie, it was pretty rough,” said Conner Lyman, a freshman and runner at SNC. “We lost a lot of members on both sides, guys and girls, until it was just two guys with a bunch of substitutes from the soccer team and four girls.”
Tough coaching on a new and fairly inexperienced team can lead to these losses of both runners and matches. The girls cross country would take the one and only 2nd place finish at the Bobcat Invitational, leaving the men to settle for last place and the men and women taking last place at the Reno Twilight Race.
Then there is golf. Another addition that bodes well for the available facilities. A golf course right next door means very little need for travel (weather permitting) and also does not require a set number of players. With struggles to find a coach at the beginning of the season, Andre Gust stepped in as a PGA level golf instructor and brightened the future for the golf team. Only this was very short lived. Gust would leave half way through the season, leaving the freeski coach Jon Cherry to oversee the team. Zagar had little to say regarding the reasons for his departure, stating that “Mr. Gust resigned halfway through season because of other obligations.”
But the men’s golf would continue on without him, taking 10th of 11 at the East/West Bay Invitational, 14th of 14 at The Masters College Spring Invite, 7th of 7 at Embry-Riddle Spring Invitational, 2nd of 4 at the Simpson Spring Invitational, 8th of 10 at the Corban Spring Invite and 5th of 6 at the California Pacific Conference Championships.
Women’s golf has 4 athletes listed on their roster, yet after thorough searches, no record of them ever competing is made available. Two of these athletes apparently came all the way from Sweden to participate. What happened to the women’s golf program? This is a whole other mystery in itself…
So what does all this mean for the athletics department? Where does it go from here? The answer will most likely mean another attempt at these programs next season, as being a part of the NAIA is a commitment. But it will not be cheap. Without the addition of NAIA, the athletics department expense was reported at $610,520 (my math of the numbers stated $610,522, which is not a huge difference, but worth noting). Sports are seen as a great selling point for many students. But we have a vastly different terrain and landscape as well as an undergraduate class that both the size and social lifestyles do not reflect the same level of appreciation for these sports. The underwhelming turnout for the matches speaks for itself.
One part of our school’s social makeup is the many outdoor enthusiasts who come to SNC to pursue those passions. These passions include skiing and snowboarding, mountain biking, rock climbing, whitewater kayaking and a variety of other outdoor sports. A quick search online finds a collegiate association of some kind involving each sport. While skiing and snowboarding have already been established, providing more support for the rock climbing club could gear up SNC for a strong climbing team, all while helping add to enrollment of those who embody the SNC core themes and the love of the outdoors.
What about intramural sports? There have been many sports on campus such as a water ski club, a disc golf club and rock climbing club with a variety of others. Intramural sports, while not seemingly as appealing, can actually create results over time at a much cheaper cost. This is the approach that focuses on using students that are already available without spending money on recruiting.
The NAIA sports programs still have time to grow and may very well see success in the future. But what I am trying to get as is based on an old parable; “A foolish man builds his house on sand.” The same goes with our sports programs. Focus on the sports we have (WOMEN’S LACROSSE, REMEMBER THEM?) and build programs that have a solid footing, rooted within the school and the success will speak for itself. And yes, this will not gain more enrolment right away. But look at what those first three men back in 1990 did for the ski program today.