Likelihood low for further addition of men’s varsity sports

More than four years ago, senior Emmett Culligan couldn’t decide where he wanted to go to college.

He had a passion for sports and was excellent at volleyball, so he wanted to continue playing. However, in a nation with only 23 Division I male volleyball teams, the pickings were slim. He was offered scholarships, but none of the schools had strong academic programs.

Fast forward to today, and the molecular and cellular biology major who wants to be a doctor is a star player of the top-ranked male club volleyball team in the country. But there’s one thing he would love more than anything else: the opportunity to play Division I volleyball at the University of Illinois.

“I would definitely play here if it was offered,” Culligan said. “I already live and breathe volleyball, and then I would finally get the combination of academics and sports.”

However, the possibilities for Culligan’s dream to come true are slim. According to the University, the likelihood for an additional men’s varsity sport at Illinois in the near future is nearly impossible.

“Right now adding another varsity men’s sport is kind of a dead issue, at least on the back burner,” said Kent Brown, assistant athletic director and head of media relations. “I mean, never say never, but with the current setup, it is just not feasible for any men’s sport to be added to our roster.”

Adding another men’s sport isn’t on the agenda because of both the economic climate and the need for gender equality between sports. Since Title IX was passed in 1972, college programs have worked on creating setups with equal opportunities for males and females. Under the law, everything is supposed to be comparable: treatment, number of participants, practice facilities and more.

Currently, out of 88 NCAA Championships, 41 are for men, 44 for women and three are co-ed. However, due to sports with large rosters, universities still struggle to meet the status quo.

If the University does add another varsity sport in the near future, it would be a women’s sport.

“When you look at sports like football, it is impossible to find a female sport with that many participants,” Brown said. “We have looked into a variety of new sports for females, including equestrian, rowing, bowling, field hockey, lacrosse and sand volleyball.”

Illinois has made several structural changes to varsity sports in the past 17 years.

In 1993, men’s swimming and diving, along with fencing, were cut from the program. Women’s soccer entered the scene in 1996, and softball began in 2000.

The male sports had to be cut in order to abide by Title IX laws, which former men’s swimming and diving coach Don Sammons regrets.

“It came pretty sudden to us that they cut the team,” Sammons said. “I think it was terrible because these young men were now denied the opportunity to grow from the experiences of a varsity sport. Ron Guenther said that he hopes to reinstate it some day, and I hope it happens soon.”

The swimming and diving team did not have the most successful program history, but the fencing team had several national titles, Brown said.

“In cutting sports and adding sports we look more at the numbers and facilities than the team’s performance,” Brown said.

Brown said the University also attempts to not cut any benefits available to varsity athletes, who are provided with a variety of services that aren’t available to those who play club sports.

Foremost among them is that varsity sports offer scholarship aid to many athletes and academic support through the Irwin Academic Center. As part of scholarship aid for football, volleyball and men’s and women’s basketball, athletes have access to one meal a day at the Varsity Room.

The sports medicine staff provides medical care, and student-athletes have access to certain strength and conditioning programs and weight rooms.

Brown said that these services are essential to a student-athlete’s experience at the university.

In making decisions, officials analyze what other colleges are doing. Brown said currently men’s gymnastics and wrestling are being cut at many universities. He added Illinois strongly hopes to not cut another sport but still must observe the current trends.

At Illinois, the D-I club hockey team has had a history of recent success, winning the ACHA title in 2008 and consistently advancing deep into the postseason. Still, the team simply can’t offer the benefits that other Division I schools offer, such as Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan State in the Big Ten.

“When we don’t have money or services to offer athletes, it’s hard for us to get any good recruits,” senior hockey player JJ Heredia said.

Brown said that the athletic department has recognized successful club sports and their desire to become Division I varsity programs, but it is just not feasible during this current economic situation.

“It is what it is,” Brown said. “We’re not going to be adding any sports any time soon. The sports that we have are enough for us all to handle.”