Athletics Department Prioritizes Varsity Athletes With New Gym

Student trains at new fitness facility

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

The Athletics Department has recently put an old, virtually unused space to use as a new facility to allow varsity athletes a place to practice as a team and to alleviate pressure in other fitness facilities on campus. Some students worry, however, that the new facility will create a greater divide between athletes and non-athletes on campus, and that the facilities’ new equipment could have been placed in a space where it could be accessed easily by the entire student body.

According to Eric Hoffman, Strength and Condition Coach, and organizer of the new facility, the new space, which is still located in the fitness complex, is simply an efficient use of underutilized space.

“This new area is at the old squash courts and is on the last two courts, where only very few people were using them,” Eric Hoffman, Strength and Condition Coach, and organizer of the new facility, said. “We cut a hole in the wall between the courts and have a new area where teams can conduct strength training together, as a team.”

The need for a larger fitness area has been noticeable to many students for a long time, especially those who frequent the Mullan Indoor Tennis and Fitness Center, the college’s gym for the entire campus community.

“The idea behind the facility was to solve overcrowding at certain times in the Mullan Center,” Adam Hertz, Director of Athletics, said. “We’ve tried a lot of different solutions for the center. It was incredibly congested and at certain times of the day, teams just couldn’t practice there.”

Some students are concerned, however, that the Athletics Department’s decision to open a new space for athletes solves the athletes’ needs for new equipment, without working to address the school’s general problem of having a too-small campus fitness center with old equipment.

Lucia Luna-Victoria ’15, said, “I think the real issue is that it [the decision to open up the new gym] denies the majority of people who use the Mullan Center better equipment because the equipment seems outdated. It [the Mullan Center] also seems small compared to other colleges’, and even within a P.E. class, students have to take turns using the machines.”

Swarthmore’s 4,000 square foot Mullan Center is relatively smaller than other colleges’ of similar sizes facilities, such as Haverford’s 7,200 square foot Arn and Nancy Tellem Fitness Center or Amherst’s 8,000 square foot Wolff Fitness Center.

The new facility, still in its opening phases, gives preference for use to in-season varsity athletes then off-season varsity athletes, and is only open to non-athletes, when no athletes have it booked. Students, athletes and non-athletes alike, can only use the space, during designated times during group practices, under the supervision of a coach. Because a coach needs to be in attendance, it difficult for non-athletes or club sport athletes to access the space.

According to Hoffman, however, athletes have been making great use of the facility. “So far, things have been moving and small groups have been using it,” Hoffman, said. “We’ve introduced the space to the teams and their coaches. The demand has been good so far.

The facility includes some new equipment, but with a special focus.

“The new center is catered to be more sport-specific and more athletically useful. We have some specific weight-lifting equipment that we use,” Hoffman, said.

The initial reaction from varsity athletes contacted by The Gazette has been positive, and many athletes are happy to have a space dedicated to practicing as a team.

“Teams are setting aide a certain amount of time from their practice time now to practice together in this facility and this makes their time practicing as efficient as possible,” Hannah Deming ’12, Women’s Soccer Team Captain, said. “For example, when you have a very large team, like the men’s lacrosse team that needs to get through a work-out in Mullan, it just makes the center a mad-house and it’s hard for everyone in there. It definitely hurts the non-athletes as well since you’re competing with everyone else to use the same equipment.”

The new facility has already proven successful in this regard, as new workout times show.

“We can push the men’s lacrosse team, with 40 people, through a workout in about an hour [in the new area],” Hertz, said. “This would undoubtedly take a much longer time in the Mullan Center.”

However, the new facility is not sitting as well with other members of the college community, who worry that creating a facility where athletes are given preference will create demarcations at a school where athletes have traditionally sweated in the gym, elbow-to-elbow, with exercising non-athletes and faculty.

Catherine Kelley ’14, a player on the Women’s Rugby team, which is a club sport acknowledged that varsity athletes needed to train harder than club sports participants but said, “We shouldn’t be segregating athletes. Ideally, if there were any way to make the Mullan Center larger with more updated equipment, that would be the best solution since it wouldn’t create two distinct groups because of this new center: varsity athletes and non-varsity athletes or non-athletes as a whole.”

These concerns may be alleviated in a couple of years according to the most recent draft of the Swarthmore strategic plan.

The Plan, a document that proposes ways in which the college can make improvements across a wide range of areas, suggests “expanding and enhancing the variety and scope of our wellness initiatives”, possibly by “expand[ing] or build[ing] a fitness center to accommodate our community’s wellness and fitness efforts.” However, there are presently no firm plans to expand the Mullan Center or create a new fitness facility for the entire campus.


  1. The athletic facilities at Swarthmore are truly a disgrace to the college. The facilities at the urban public high schools in my city (mostly serving a 50% free and reduced lunch population) are better than Swarthmore’s facilities. Can you think of a college with worse athletic facilities? I have visited dozens of colleges and cannot.

  2. While I understand that the school might not wish to treat its athletes preferentially, I think that it is a good thing that varsity athletes now have a place where they can complete their strength and conditioning work as a team without clogging Mullan Center and inconveniencing other patrons of the facility. The equipment in the new gym is specifically geared towards athletes which means that the average patron in Mullan would need instruction and supervision to use the equipment. This is why a coach must be present for athletes to use the gym.
    Finally, as a varsity athlete, I have to say that I am honestly incredibly happy that the school is showing some love to the students who dedicate a significant portion of their time to representing Swarthmore College on the athletic field. This new gym gives varsity athletes a place to work out as a team and lightens the traffic through Mullan Center. It is without a doubt a good use of space and resources.

  3. While I definitely don’t think this is an ideal solution, it is a well-needed attempt at a solution. Speaking practically, there is no way to just enlarge Mullan to accomodate everybody as needs to be done. Hopefully, with strategic planning, there can be a more all-inclusive solution, but, for now, this is going to make everybody’s lives easier.

    Additionally, the equipment in the new gym is all free weights. There are no machines and there are no bikes, ellipticals, or treadmills. While I fully acknowledge that there are many non-athletes who use free-weights, the majority of people I’ve encountered using free-weights in the gym are athletes. To that extent, the equipment in the new gym is not what is most used by non-athletes.

    I’m very happy Swarthmore has put the effort forward to lighten the load in Mullan Center. I hope that, in the near future, we can have a facility that can accomodate everybody all the time. Realistically, that is still several years away.

  4. The new expansion of the Mullan Center is a great attempt to accommodate the needs of the growing student body, and the relatively small facilities that are currently available to students. I have a few concerns of the potential negative consequences the expansion might have on the Swarthmore community. The new facility separates the “athletes” from the “non-athletes”, perpetuating the divide between the two groups subsequently encouraging “athletes” to only associate with “athletes”, and visa-versa. Why encourage this distinction? This could easily be fixed if the Athletic Department opened the facility to all students (sounds Quakerish no?) by hiring more student workers to work at a check-in desk for the new gym. I am also concerned that the Athletic Department did not publically announce the opening of this gym. They should have notified the entire Swarthmore community (easy to do with email, or website announcement) that new equipment (I would estimate over 40K $ of new gear) is available for use. During the designing phase of the new facility the Athletic Director, or whoever makes the decisions, should have figured out a way for all students to be able to use the equipment. If this was not part of the planning process, the Athletic Department failed to fulfill their role at Swarthmore College of providing equal access to all students. I am glad that the money was spent to expand the space of the athletic facilities, however, if the department cannot figure out a way for the entire student body to have access to the new equipment I think this might be the beginning of Swarthmore becoming the next Amherst or Williams full of Bras, Bros, and Jocks.

    • I don’t think that an athletes-only gym will “perpetuate the divide between the [athletes and non-athletes] subsequently encouraging “athletes” to only associate with “athletes”. The level of interaction that goes on in gyms is so low that I don’t think it will have any impact on the social interactions of our campus. It will no more further the divide than practices or athletes-only paces parties. The reality is, people are going to separate into groups according to the friendships they make, and it happens that a lot of people tend to group together according to their status as athletes, non athletes, etc. If you just take a look around Swarthmore it is easy to see how segregated our campus is. I think if we’re going to talk about the social divides on campus, we should consider the impact of human nature (like-minded people group together) rather than the impact of an athletes-only gym. Just a thought.

    • “Additionally, the equipment in the new gym is all free weights. There are no machines and there are no bikes, ellipticals, or treadmills.” see comment by Matthew. Being abroad, I cannot speak as to whether this is true or not. If it is, 40k to knock down a wall and add free weights is an absurdly overestimated price.

      Second, I don’t go to the gym to socialize. As athletes, we go to the gym to train for our respective sports. I won’t be losing any sleep not working out next to other Swatties (and somehow I doubt they will either), especially when I have to get in and bust through a lift so that I can get to practice, Sharples, and homework. As non-athletes, you have the luxury of deciding whether or not to use the gym and can thus decide you don’t want to use the gym if it’s busy. Athletes do not have this luxury. At least for my team, we have set lift times where we have to go lift and reports are due at the end of each week. A new space for athletes means there is plenty of room in Mullan for everybody to get their lifts in without burning and hour and forty-five minutes of their day. Run it by me one more time how any of this is bad?

      I agree that this should be a temporary fix, that a vast overhaul of the athletic facilities (and the department in general) is absolutely needed. For now, this is the best possible solution.

      And your comment about “Bras, Bros, and Jocks” is pretty ignorant for a Swattie. Last I checked, Swat doesn’t hand out scholarships to athletes or preferentially treat prospective recruits; we got in here because we use our heads for something other than a place to hang a helmet. Don’t go ahead and espouse your Quaker “everybody’s equal” bullshit and then turn around and hate on a group of people who are different from you (not really Quaker, is it?). Grab a dictionary. Look up the word “hypocrisy”.

    • I’m sorry, but since when do varsity athletics and their accompanying facilities need to be equally accessible to the entire student body? Should all students be allowed to check-in with Ray and Larry and take our uniforms for a spin as well? When interested in visiting some of the other schools in our conference should all students be allowed to hop on the game bus and come along for the ride (first come first serve, of course)?
      I understand and respect non-athletes’ interest in working out and staying fit, but I do not think it is fair to demand use of the varsity facilities to do so. This new facility is specifically designed for athletic training, which is not relevant to most of the student body. This facility will help to boost the performance of our current student-athletes as well as assist in attracting new recruits. It will greatly contribute to the success of our athletic teams in the near future. While this is by no means a perfect solution, but it is one that was quick, manageable, and necessary.
      As for the discussion of the cost of building this new facility, it seems you are assuming that the school put up the money. That is an extremely misguided assumption. It is my understanding that direct donations from parents of student-athletes were combined to cover most, if not all, of the costs of this new facility. Their donations were made for the specific purpose of providing and equipping a proper athletic weight room to allow for the progression of Swat Athletics.

    • “I think this might be the beginning of Swarthmore becoming the next Amherst or Williams full of Bras, Bros, and Jocks.”

      I am astonished to hear such an ignorant comment coming from a Swarthmore student. The basis of Swarthmore is acceptance – the fact that you look down on athletes that made it into the school onto their own academic achievements and merits is disgraceful to the Swarthmore community. Yes, I play as sport. Does that mean I am a meat head who does nothing but athletics? No – I am involved in student clubs, campus life, and *shocker its Swat* academics. So please, if you are afraid of Swat turning into a haven for flowtastic lax brahskis, start filling out transfer apps now.

  5. I think that this new gym is a great addition to the school and will more than likely enhance overall varsity athletic performance. I find it slightly irritating that people are upset or offended by the fact that varsity athletes are given priority usage. While I respect the effort of non-athletes to workout and stay fit, it is not even close to the time and discipline needed to participate in a college sport. Varsity athletes spend a substantial amount of time on their sport (as ‘Em’ mentioned). That time is not chosen by the individuals and cannot be skipped because of a heavy workload, feeling under the weather, etc.. Having a space where athletes can efficiently and more effectively work out is not “promoting a distinction” between athletes and non-athletes nor is it encouraging athletes to only associate with athletes (since people are only working out within their team anyway). No one is asking for an athletes only dining hall, early class registration for athletes, extra academic help for athletes, or special dorms for athletes (all of which are not uncommon at other institutions). All this gym is is a place where athletes can better prepare for their sport. Our varsity athletes deserve a little more appreciation for their commitment to representing Swarthmore as best they can.

  6. I think the issue here is NOT whether there should be a new facility to allow our varsity athletes to train. There is a clear demand for the expansion of the Mullan Center. Varsity athletes devote lots of time to their respective sports and should be able to have access to the appropriate facilites. The pressing issue is that the new facility is exclusively open to varsity athletes. The athletic department should figure out how to let non-athletes into the new facilities when it is not already reserved for a team training session. If the space is for “athletes” only, why shouldn’t club athletes who are just as “athletic” as varsity athletes have access to the space?

    • “Students, athletes and non-athletes alike, can only use the space, during designated times during group practices, under the supervision of a coach. Because a coach needs to be in attendance, it difficult for non-athletes or club sport athletes to access the space.”

      Club teams can use the space just like varsity teams can, as can non-athletes (though I doubt a “team” of non-athletes will be breaking down the doors any time soon). The space is simply geared towards team-usage. If club athletes want to use it they can, just get a coach to supervise. The pecking order is just like field usage at Swat: in-season, off-season, club, everybody else. Nobody complains about this because it just makes sense. Do I hate it when girls soccer bumps me off of my fall practice because I am an “off-season” athlete? Absolutely. Do I understand the reasons why we schedule around them? Of course. Because they are “in-season” they need it more than we do. Non-athletes can also use the fields when athletes (club and varsity alike) are not on it. Why are people complaining about something like this “new facility”, but not reserving field time? The principle is essentially the same because both spaces are geared toward team training and usage. All this has managed to do is streamline everybody’s lifting times. It isn’t like Swat built the athletes a workout temple; they knocked down a wall between squash quarts and added a free weight set.

  7. Swarthmore has as non-existent of a divide between “athletes” and “non-athletes” as any school in the country. If you’re not playing a sport, unless you dabble in parkour in your free time, you don’t need plyometric conditioning. Free weights are available in the Mullan center.

    The space is essentially just going to be a room that can be reserved for team practice sessions. This is no different the soccer and lacrosse teams reserving the field for practice or the basketball teams using the gym.

  8. Here at Swarthmore, we allow different IC groups to be “closed”, meaning that students who are not a part of that group are not allowed in that space. However, because of this exclusion, members in that “closed” IC group are able to accomplish things in that meeting that they would not have been able to accomplish if others of the community were around. In my opinion, this makes our community better.

    Why can’t the same principles be applied to allowing varsity athletes their own space at certain times? The space isn’t closed all the time, only when athletes need it. Clearly, athletes are able to train better when non-athletes are not using the space. Doesn’t giving them their time and space also make our community and school better?

      • Nobody disagrees with you, um.

        But only in Swarthmore would we think it’s outrageous to help an athlete actually do his or her purpose. Y’know, the purpose of training for hiss/her sport.

        Also, how many of the people who are aginast this policy ACTUALLY go to the gym.

        If so, the athletes have already told you that they have no interest in socializing during required workouts, which they have already said is difficult to do while chillin. What other reasons are there against this policy?

      • Or,

        is your issue that being a part of a nondominant cuulture contributes to Swarthmore and being an Athlete does not?

        • no, my issue is that comparing athletes (who have chosen to be athletes) to members of historically marginalized groups seems pretty offensive.

  9. This article is ridiculous.
    “Some students worry, however, that the new facility will create a greater divide between athletes and non-athletes on campus”

    The reason a divide already exists is because many students look down on student athletes – allowing them access to a varsity facility will do nothing to aid the teams winning games, and it will not create bonds between athletes and students. If Mulan didn’t do that, how would this? Athletes put in countless extra hours to their sports that they could be devoting to doing homework. Why shouldn’t they get extra perks?

  10. It’s interesting that very few (if any) of the comments mention the fact that while there may be a “new” athletes-only gym (which truly isn’t the case as others may also use it under the supervision of a coach, just as the athletes must), having the in-season athletes out of the Mullan center will actually benefit the rest of the college community. Rather than this being only a perk for athletes, it also helps out the rest of the college community.

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