Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Women's Club Soccer

Playing a sport at Davidson takes a certain kind of personality. It demands intricate time management, dedication, and a love for the game that will most likely end after graduation. The Davidson life is rigorous by most accounts and the demands of the athletic win/lose mentality can often be quite high. However, despite these perils, many Davidson students undertake an athletic commitment in their four years here. This commitment can range from being a scholarship athlete with year-long training and dedication to a backup on a Freshman flickerball team. Most people at this school try to understand the beauty of competition, teamwork and sportsmanship. Throughout the rest of the year, the Davidsonian sports section will periodically cover the pursuits of all of our student-athletes, from intramurals to club sports to the varsity. This week we cover the Club Soccer team.

In Davidson club sports, it is all about numbers. If a team doesn’t have enough players, they can’t have practices and they can’t play games. As would be expected, the numbers for club teams are always fluctuating depending on each particular class, who goes abroad and the relative popularity of the sport.

If that is the first criteria for having a successful club team at Davidson, then Club Soccer gets an A for the fall. In the last few seasons, the numbers have been up as the team routinely has over 20 players at any given practice. In some games this year, the team has had to field two different squads in order to allow everyone to play. While preference is given to older players and those who regularly attend practice, the philosophy of Audrey Cundari ’08, the team’s coach and captain, proclaims that this team is about having fun not finding the most talent.

“This is a place for people to just go out there and kick around,” said Cundari. “Obviously we want to compete and play good soccer, but winning isn’t our ultimate goal.”

For many Davidson girls, that philosophy is imminently appealing. The team’s makeup of players is predominantly taken from high school soccer players who decided not to compete on the Division I varsity level. However, within that group there are also former Davidson varsity players as well as girls who hadn’t played the game since middle school. The mix is diverse, but the girls make it work.

“We have an assistant coach/manager in Mark Cebul who really keeps things fun. If a certain drill isn’t working in practice, he switches things up and keeps it lively.”

Another struggle for every club team is the handling of funds. Scheduling roadtrips, buying jerseys and providing food all cost money, and the club teams have to show progress and organization in order to be approved for more moneys.

This year’s Club Soccer team has already played at Virginia Tech and has acquired new jerseys. After starting the season 1-3-1, they will host N.C. State and Wake Forest during Parents Weekend.

Ultimately, Club Soccer provides an environment for girls to still play the sport they love. The infrastructure of the program provides more reliability than any pickup game, but the players don’t have to sacrifice too much in order to gain a lot. For those girls, the game of soccer still goes on, long after they thought it had ended.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

College Football: Give it back to the Fans

(published in The Davidsonian, October 4, 2006)

During last Saturday’s football game between Davidson and San Diego, I walked into the home stands 10 minutes before kickoff and sat down amongst an excited group of community families, alums of every age, families of players and coaches and students. Although the stadium filled up, there was room for everyone who wanted to watch the game. Tickets were affordable, and the atmosphere was enjoyable despite the eventual 50-21 outcome.

This scene was quite different from the college football experience of three weeks ago when I went to Death Valley to watch the Clemson-North Carolina game. The entire campus was packed with families and students and boosters, 84,000 strong. There was something very special about being in the midst of so large a social organism rooting for my Tigers.

However, as I look back on that day as compared to Davidson’s homecoming, I wonder whether there wasn’t something missing at Clemson. Or, more specifically, whether there was a little too much of a good thing.

The consensus attitude towards everything in college football these days is that more is better. More facilities, more people, more pageantry, more yardage and more money. As a matter of fact, a lot more money. Over the last decade, revenues of college football have exploded exponentially and universities have become caught up in a spending war to attract recruits.

It doesn’t baffle us when schools like Texas and Michigan pour millions of dollars into stadium renovations every few years, but even schools from smaller conferences are beginning to spend in astronomical increments.

In his Oct. 9 article in ESPN the Magazine, Peter Keating articulates this notion by supplying evidence from various research firms showing no correlation between spending and generating university profits over the last eight years. In other words, expanding facilities and offering a better college football experience isn’t bringing any more money into the program. Perhaps the only real consequence is felt by the average fan, who has steadily had to shell out more and more money for game tickets.

Three weeks ago, I began to realize what kind of institution college football had become. I had to purchase tickets to the game on eBay because the game had been sold out for months. I ended up paying nearly three times the face value, a face value that was already higher than a comparable seat in Bank of America stadium for an NFL game. When did Clemson-North Carolina become such an exclusive affair?

During the game, I noticed around the stadium that students were the only non-VIPs to have seats that didn’t need binoculars. Many season ticket holders are required not only to pay exorbitant prices for mere upper deck seating, but also have to give more and more money to the school’s athletic foundation in order to remain eligible to season ticket purchasing. That money inevitably goes to building more facilities, which only seem to then increase ticket prices.

When one looks at the elite schools of college football, they are not necessarily defined by excessive spending, but rather generations of success. Schools with losing traditions might allocate incredible budgets for college football and still not find success on the scoreboard.

Certainly, facilities and media exposure as a result of spending help to improve recruiting, but sound coaching, principled administration and commitment to success can go a lot farther. Effective investment in meaningful projects is a required tenet of good administration. In that sense, it is not that money has nothing to do with success, it is rather that spending should have consequence and be seen as investment.

In the end, college football should be about the players, the fans, the coaches and the families. All of these groups are benefited by greater access to tickets through principled pricing. The best seats shouldn’t always go to the highest bidder. Universities should spend more money in player development and community building, ensuring that players are actually educated. Finally college football should be about football. I might seem ignorant to believe that players and fans still believe in the spirit of the game. But I saw it exhibited last Saturday at Davidson, and I know that what is good and right always has the power to succeed.