Club sports leaders outraged over college decision to cut PE credit

Despite club sports leaders’ attempt to overturn the new Physical Education credit system during a meeting last Thursday, it remains largely in place. The new PE credit system comprises two main changes. Beginning with the class of 2019, students can earn a maximum of two credits for participation in club sports or Student Activities Groups, and the other two PE credits needed for graduation must be obtained through PE courses taught by faculty members at the college. Secondly, beginning with the 2016-17 academic year, seniors can only obtain PE credits through PE courses taught by faculty members.

The purpose of the meeting last Thursday was for the representatives of the Athletics Department to explain the impetus behind the new policy, and to allow the club sports leaders to express their criticisms of the change. The meeting was attended by Associate Director of Athletics Nnenna Akotaobi, Club Sports Coordinator Landry Kosmalski, Student Wellness Program Manager Noemí Fernández, Dean Rachel Head, and leaders from a handful of club sports teams, including men’s and women’s ultimate, fencing, and rugby.

At the end of the meeting, the athletics department expressed that the new system is to stay in place, but the rule that PE credits can only be attained during the “traditional” season of a sport, which would be one semester per year, was abolished. This was due to the fact that many club sports could not distinguish ‘traditional’ and ‘non-traditional’ seasons, as the two seasons had the same number of practices and games.

The PE faculty had been discussing this policy change over the last few years.  One of the change’s aims is to increase the Athletic Department’s control in awarding credits, as currently, Club Sports and Student Activities Groups independently decide the criteria for giving out PE credit.

“The main reason we made the change is because there has been a gradual decline of faculty oversight when it comes to the distribution of PE. The reason we put in the senior restriction is because of situations in the spring when a peer (SAG or club sports’ captain) has to decide whether or not a senior graduates based on attendance at practices and games. That puts a lot of pressure on that leader and is not a fair situation for him/her,” Kosmalski said.

Another key motivation of this change is to increase participation in PE classes.

“We feel that our PE courses are valuable, so [another] advantage of these changes is that more students will now benefit from them,” Kosmalski said.

The club sports leaders present at the meeting did not think that the department’s current lack of oversight justifies the change.

“While they stated oversight as a reason, no one from Athletics has ever come to observe practices, games, or tournaments to assess the rigor of our programs,” Joe Corcoran ‘16, one of the ultimate frisbee captains, said. “This leads to question the motives actually behind this new policy. It seems that our lack of faculty involvement is the bigger issue.”

Aarthi Reddy ’14, coach of women’s rugby, echoed this frustration, explaining that the problem of the lack of faculty oversight in distribution requirements should not be remedied in this way.

“Coaches and club sports leaders could sit down with whoever and make sure practices are meeting whatever standards are deemed appropriate for the credits we receive. Instead of trying to work with club sports, it feels like the administration or whoever is in charge of this new policy is taking the easy way out by just establishing a cap rather than trying to achieve any sort of compromise,” Reddy said.

Additionally, there are concerns that the new system will see a decline in attendance and inhibit the spirit of club sports.

“There are many pre-existing reasons to not play a club sport at Swarthmore. Among them – club sports do not receive the recognition of varsity sports, trainer access is limited, concussed players on some club teams cannot be treated by the trainer, budgets are smaller,” Corcoran said.

“Landry and Nnenna were both vocal in their agreement. They are eager to work with us to improve these conditions and to make sure that the dedication of club athletes is rewarded with more support from the athletics staff. We are equally eager to work with them. Unfortunately, until these changes occur and until club sports athletes are valued, the PE change is just another reason to not play club sports,” Corcoran added.

Reddy worries that besides the decrease in current participation in club sports, the chances of people trying a new club sport will also decrease with the new policy.

“I know without a doubt that my time at Swarthmore was fundamentally changed because of my commitment to club sports, and I also know many club sports alumni who feel similarly. I understand that the counterargument is that our team should be able to retain players without the promise of PE credit, which I think is a fair sentiment. But our team prides itself on introducing people to both the sport of rugby and to athletics in general, neither of which would be possible if students weren’t persuaded to join in the first place,” Reddy said.

Representatives from the Athletics Department maintained that the PE credit system change dealt with problems separate from other issues club sports are facing.

Meg Bost ’17, captain of women’s rugby, argues that this policy change will affect the attendance of club sports, as well as the reputation of club sports on campus.

“I believe the policy will draw athletes who may have otherwise been committed to club sports away from it because they simply will not have time to participate fully in both,” Bost said. “I also think the policy unintentionally exacerbates a general attitude that I feel on campus towards club sports, i.e. that club sports aren’t ‘true’ sports in the way varsity sports are, and that club sports athletes should not be taken seriously as athletes.”


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