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Sunday, January 24, 2021

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Richmond adopts sport club classification system

Members of the Sport Club Council for the Weinstein Center for Recreation and Wellness adopted a classification system last year to provide financial resources more equitably to clubs at various levels of competition, participation and financial need.

The number of sport clubs at the university has increased from 15 to about 34 during the last four years, said Seth Thomas, assistant director for sports. About 800 students at the University of Richmond participate in sport clubs, according to the sport club website.

Since 2011, archery, Quidditch and disc golf have been added, said Matt Burns, sport club executive council president and club ice hockey president. The increase in sport club participation has led to the need for a tier system to better serve clubs with greater time commitments and participation, according to this year's sport club bylaws.

The highest tier comprises championship clubs, clubs with the potential for national recognition, Thomas said. These clubs, which are currently ice hockey, equestrian, crew, men's rugby and men's lacrosse, receive the most funding from the university, but pay the highest membership dues.

Richmond administration offers these teams marketing and fundraising support, part-time coaching, an athletic trainer for practices and competitions, paid transportation, uniforms, staff for games and funding up to $10,000 from the Sport Club Council, according to its bylaws. The team cannot participate in an NCAA sport of the same gender; it must have at least 20 active members, at least 10 scheduled games or competitions, one regional or national tournament a year and each player must fundraise.

The second tier consists of competitive clubs, clubs with wide popularity and the potential for success and recognition, according to the bylaws. This tier is the largest, comprising 19 clubs.

Clubs at this level do not receive part-time coaches, trainers for practices or gameday staff. They can request Sport Club Council funding up to $5,000. These clubs are required to have at least 14 active members, at least six games or competitions and pay club dues, though dues are less per player than championship club dues.

The next tier includes recreational clubs, clubs with a social focus. Golf, martial arts, polo, squash, women's water polo, archery, D-Squad (dance) and wrestling are considered recreational clubs.

Recreational clubs can only access trainers through consultation and do not receive uniforms or university transportation. Teams may request council funds up to $1,000. The only tier requirement is that a team must have at least 10 active members.

There is no limit to the number of clubs a university can have total or per tier, Burns said, but the council members try to limit the championship tier to five clubs.

One or two clubs fluctuate between tiers each year, Burns and Thomas said, and if a club is inactive, it moves down a level, Burns said.

New teams have a first-year probationary period, during which a club does not receive university funding and remains in tier III, Thomas said.

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"I think the ease to which a club can move up the tier system is dependent on the sport and the level of interest," said Katie Sears, a senior on the women's club basketball team. "It's difficult for women's basketball because it's hard to find female athletes on this campus that aren't already playing another sport, have played at least at the high school level and aren't on the varsity team already."

Women's club basketball is a tier II sport, which is the highest level the team can achieve because women's basketball is also a varsity sport at the university.

The tier system has many advantages, Sears said, because it allows the players to define their level of commitment and competition and provides the opportunity for funding. "A disadvantage could be the trouble of trying to get more funding for your club," she said. "It's a lot of paperwork in my opinion."

There is no funding for coaching, so Anthony Hatch, a volunteer and Richmond alumnus, coaches the basketball team. "Anthony is an incredible person, athlete and like a big brother to us," Sears said. "The team wouldn't be the same without him. Ideally, we'd like to get him paid for all the time he devotes to us, but we can't do that at our tier level."

The cost of traveling to tournaments is the team's biggest expense, Sears said, especially when the team has to stay in a hotel. Players paid $30 dues this year to cover travel and new uniforms, she said.

Despite having less funding, Sears said some students preferred to be at the lower tier levels. "Some students want a competitive sport to be involved in where it's similar to high school," she said. "But without the demands of the varsity level."

As a varsity athlete, you have to sacrifice a lot of time, social life and energy into that commitment. Most sports club athletes want balance and want to be more involved in the college experience of being a student and having a social life."

Moving down the tier system is rare, Sears said, and is usually a result of low recruitment, which council members try to prevent through the annual sport club rush.

"The only club that I know of since I've been here that has moved up was men's lacrosse," she said. "I imagine because they have a lot of interested players and performed well in their season that the program became very large and enabled it to move up. Funding was also in support of this, as well."

Men's lacrosse became a varsity club, another level within tier I, in 2010, Burns and Thomas said. The team's access to coaching increased from the maximum 20 hours permitted at championship club level, and funding also increased, with one-third of the team's expenses being paid by players, one-third by the council and one-third by donations, Burns said.

Varsity clubs also gain more support for recruitment and fundraising, Thomas said.

Executive Council members did not vote on the lacrosse team's transition to varsity club, Burns said, but they had been informed of the decision.

Thomas said the sport club staff communicated often with the athletics department staff through Tom Roberts, assistant vice president for recreation and wellness, Thomas said. The soccer and track and field teams probably heard lacrosse would become a varsity sport, Thomas said, though not necessarily at their expense.

It has been 10 years since the NCAA has added a sport, Thomas said. The athletics department staff makes the decision to move a championship club to NCAA level, he said, and those clubs become varsity clubs during the transition period. A club cannot skip over a tier, Thomas said, so only championship clubs are eligible for varsity status.

Being selected to become a varsity team is dependent on what the university wants, Thomas said. Generally, a university wants to have teams that support the number of students on campus and uphold Title IX requirements, he said, and then, the administration ties its goals into the goals of the NCAA and gets approval later.

Donations help, Thomas said, but it depends on the athletic department's budget and whether the department staff wants the sport in NCAA.

All former varsity teams, such as track and field and soccer, will automatically become championship clubs, Burns said.

But, those teams still need to complete the new organization process, Thomas said, by meeting with the director of student activities, developing a constitution and having it approved by Student Organizations Committee members. Once established, team members can apply to become a sport club by submitting to Thomas their constitution and a sport club renewal form.

The Executive Council members vote on the proposal, and if approved, the Sport Club Council members vote to determine whether the organization will become a sport club.

"If you go through the process, you're pretty much guaranteed to be a club," Thomas said.

Contact staff writer Rachel Bevels at rachel.bevels@richmond.edu

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