Club sports highly valuable despite lack of varsity funding

When one thinks of athletics at a major Division I university, they think varsity sports; the NCAA, bowl games and a media circus. But there is a level of athletics that exists under the surface.

Club sports play a large role at the University of Illinois. They allow students who were athletes in high school or at junior college to play at a higher level and continue to develop their passion for their sport.

Illinois is home to 34 club sports teams ranging anywhere from underwater hockey and table tennis to the more traditional dance, soccer and lacrosse. These teams are undervalued for what they bring to campus, and the opportunities they allow students.

Many of these teams compete yearly on the national stage. For example, the men’s hockey team is classified as a club sport even though it went 26-12-2 last season under head coach Nick Fabbrini, and managed to capture the CSCHL conference championship just one year after finishing under .500.

Outside of the University, the men’s hockey team is a member of the American Collegiate Hockey Association at the Division I level, but they operate as a Registered Student Organization on campus. So despite winning two of the last nine ACHA National Championships, its status remains unchanged.

The space between club sports and D-I athletics is collapsing. Many teams feel that they work just as hard and represent the University much in the same way varsity athletes do. They have to travel to away games and be at practice every day. They condition in the offseason and act according to team and university policies.

Where do we draw the line? What makes a D-I sports team?

Money.

In order for the hockey club to be considered a varsity sport, it would need money for equipment and scholarships. Not to mention the dough it would take for the ice arena, fondly called the “Big Pond”, to be renovated to comply with NCAA regulations for ice rink dimensions.

There is an undeniable void, a no man’s land, an existential gap between what is and what could be. Club sports want recognition, but the fiscal implications of that recognition is an impossibility for the university administration and the Division of Intercollegiate Athletics.

D-I status is money, and apparently there isn’t enough to go around.

But that doesn’t mean club sports aren’t important. I would argue exactly the opposite. Athletics — no matter how you classify them — exist as an outlet, a complement to a degree from a top-25 university. Many who participate in club sports probably see it as the defining aspect of their college career.

Club sports anchor athletics in a way that makes it accessible to all students. You don’t have to be on scholarship and headed toward a professional career to continue to play. You just need drive, and yeah, talent doesn’t hurt.

It may not be NCAA competition, but everyone wants to win.

Aryn is a senior in LAS. She can be reached at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @ArynBraun.