The process of selecting the Athlete of the Week at the Phoenix every week is fairly simple, but that may change. Typically, the athlete who performed the best or had the biggest positive impact in their team’s game will get the weekly spot in the Sports section. The section, however, may begin to feature both club and varsity athletes in the coming years. The change comes as a part of a larger campus discussion regarding the cooperation, valuation, and, at times, animosity between the two groups of campus athletes. In the discussion of changing the way we select Athlete of the Week, the question of club athletes’ qualifications for selection as Athlete of the Week has arisen.
Club sports play an important role in the lives of many students at the college. Between volleyball, ultimate frisbee, and rugby, some of the more prominent club sports on campus, non-varsity student-athletes have the opportunity to competitively participate in various athletic events. There are currently seven chartered clubs including Fencing, Men and Women’s Rugby, Men and Women’s Ultimate Frisbee, Men’s Volleyball, and Men’s Badminton. These clubs are highly organized and have clearly defined policies specific to club sports teams that they must follow. Like all students, members of club sports teams must also comply with policies set out by the college, including sexual assault and harassment, misconduct, safety, and hazing policies. Club athletes can face disciplinary action if they don’t adhere to these policies. The implementation of these policies suggests that club athletes are held to a particular behavioral standard as they are representatives of the school.
Club sports are also held to standards of organization, similarly to varsity sports. Club captains are required to submit rosters, have their players sign an assumption of risk form, verify that the team has team insurance, and ensure that the team is authorized to travel. Most importantly, captains are required to develop and establish an attendance policy. Attendance policies are important in club sports, too, because club athletes can receive PE credit, which is a requirement for graduation, similar to varsity athletes.
Because club athletes can receive PE credit, their activities are officially recognized by the school as competitive athletic events that contribute to a student’s learning in the same way varsity athletic events do. In order for a club sports to be eligible for PE credit, they must follow certain criteria. Club sports are required to hold at least three practices a week while they are in season, must have a committed coach or supervisor, and must keep attendance, as mentioned before. Club sports are classified as a chartered student organization, and thus receive funding from the Student Budget Committee. In the event that funding does not completely cover total costs, teams are allowed to fundraise on campus with approval of the athletic department although varsity teams also have the opportunity to raise funds through on-campus events.
Much like varsity sports, club sports play a competitive schedule. Almost every club team played an away game last year, and every team could have qualified for their respective postseason, given they earned a good enough record. Teams are required to attend their scheduled games, or they run the risk of forfeiting.
The competition creates rivalries. Last week, the Women’s Rugby team edged out Ursinus for the first time in five years. The long-standing rivalry between Swarthmore and Ursinus illustrates the competitiveness of many club sports on campus. Tim Greco ’19, a member of the Men’s Rugby team, spoke to the competitive edge not only present but required for competing in club sports.
“The people on the team care about their performance very much. If you don’t care about doing well, you won’t be out there to begin with risking yourself getting hurt. There’s definitely a competitive spirit, on the same plane as varsity athletics,” said Greco. Greco also mentioned how club athletes represent the college, bearing the signature Swarthmore “S” on equipment and jerseys. He said, “We are still representing the college. It does not matter if it is through an official sport or through a club sport. We are still representing Swarthmore. Not only how well we do, but our level of sportsmanship reflects back on Swarthmore.” Some argue that many club teams are just as committed and dedicated to their sport as varsity teams.
Rose Ridder ’19, a member of the Women’s Rugby team and former swimmer, spoke along these lines saying, “Some club sports are more hardcore than others, but some are definitely not hardcore. Some varsity sports are more hardcore than other, but some are definitely not hardcore.”
Ethan Chapman ’19, a member of Men’s Ultimate Frisbee, approaches the question from a different perspective, saying, “The commitment level is higher [as a varsity athlete], but you’re bound to it. If you’re playing frisbee, and you’re committed that much to your team, the same level as a varsity player, that says a lot about you,” he said. “You’re not bound to that. Everyday, you have the option to not go, and nothing will happen. But if you choose to keep going, that just says so much about your dedication.”
Chapman expanded on his statement when he said, “When a varsity athlete is on a team and is having a bad day, they are still forced to go to their practice. In club sports, if you’re doing it just for fun, and you’re having a bad day, you don’t need to go. But if you have that commitment, and you go on your own, again that just says so much.”
On the other hand, many varsity athletes feel the current method for selecting Athlete of the Week, and for covering Garnet sports in general, should go unchanged. The argument, most often, was that only varsity athletes should be selected because they are more committed to their sport.
Varsity athletes are, in general, not allowed to miss any practices except for emergencies, class conflict, or injury. By-and-large, coaches hold each individual athlete accountable for missing any type of team practice or lift, often requiring each player to make up the practice or lift on their own time. In some cases, athletes get sent back to their dorms for being late to a lift or practice without a proper excuse.
“Some varsity athletes compete every single day for as many as three to fours hours, taking up a lot of your time. Varsity is official, people work really, really, really hard. Club seems to be more of a fun thing,” shared Chris Chan’ 17, a member of the Track and Field team.
An anonymous player on the Softball team shared similar sentiments, explaining that she felt that varsity sports are more intensive than club sports.
“They [club athletes] don’t put in as much time as we do, and don’t have official coaches. In general, they don’t get recruited or have to worry about getting cut.” She continued, explaining that she perceives club sports as less standardized and, therefore, less competitive.
“They [club athletes] don’t have statistics or a league to be compared with. What would you be measuring them against? No one knows how good their competition is.”
The majority of varsity athletes get recruited to play at the college; however, club athletes typically do not. Being recruited to play a sport in college is a slow and painful process. Most college coaches go to recruiting events that host hundreds of players, only being able to get a short glimpse at each of them. Many times, they go to recruiting events already knowing which players they want to take a look at. Other times, they rely on recommendations from travel coaches to build their recruiting classes. Some varsity athletes made the life-changing decision to attend one college over another solely because one college offered the opportunity to play on a varsity team.
Of course, there is always the uncertainty of not being accepted into a certain college even after being offered a roster spot, which can make finding a school to play at even more difficult. Jackson Roberts ’19, a member of the Baseball team, recalls a situation in high school where he made plans to originally commit to another college.
“I had made up my mind about playing and studying at [undisclosed college]. I had it taken away from me when I didn’t get in. I knew the baseball coach really wanted me, so I assumed I’d get in. I thought it was the best situation for me,” he said. In the end, the circumstances changed, creating undue challenges for Roberts.
“I was forced to find alternative plans. Varsity athletes face and think about these things first. I don’t think club athletes think about that first. I think they choose a school based on academics, then reached out to club athletics after.”
Another difference between club athletes and varsity athletes, many believe, is that varsity athletes are held to a different behavioral standard. Many varsity athletes can recall the traditional speech given by coaches before every weekend, which includes reminding ever player that, although they may be members of other groups, they are identified as a member of their team first. Many people identify well-known varsity athletes as varsity athletes first. Although club athletes still represent Swarthmore, they are not always identified as club athletes first. This distinction socially separates them from club athletes.
All of this being said, the conversation will likely continue, as the athletic department and campus attitudes towards athletics shift and change.