On Being Valued as an Collegiate Athlete

Having competed in the 2013 Head of the Charles Regatta with the UConn Men’s Crew Team in Boston with over 9,000 athletes and 300,000 spectators I know that rowing is a sport pursued by rowers of all ages who have one thing in common. We are passionately invested in our sport. We were lucky to be invited to row a challenging course with wide turns and too many bridges. And just being there is worth every sacrifice made to get there. But competing in the Head of the Charles at the collegiate varsity level takes more than a competitive spirit and the will to succeed. It takes support and funding. To row a boat, you need a boat and much more. There are many reasons for the inequality of support and funding for rowers, especially at the collegiate level, especially for Men’s Crew. Yet we still row.
Reason One: Title IX
Title IX has long been blamed as the reason for dropping many low profile Men’s collegiate teams. Yet Title IX is more complicated than keeping male and female participation levels equal. According to Peter Keating of ESPN, Title IX is not about imposing quotas based on the proportion of female athletes to female students but this is what Athletic Directors do to comply because it’s easier and less expensive to drop Men’s Athletic programs than to develop new ones to accommodate female athletes.

Reason Two: NCAA Scholarships
The NCAA regulates scholarship guidelines based on sport by headcount, which has little to do with Title IX. For instance, the NCAA mandates that a Division I school can have 60 female rowers and coxswains and distribute 20 scholarships, to be divided as coaches see fit. Yet the NCAA does not sanction men’s crew teams, who do not compete in the official NCAA Rowing Championship at the end of spring season. The men’s rowing teams receive 0 scholarships.

Reason Three: Revenue Sports
Even though Title IX has brought positive attention to rowing, it is still a low profile sport. Then again, according to NCAA data, less than 5% of all collegiate athletic departments actually return a profit. Yet most of the money spent on collegiate sports can found on the sidelines of high profile sports like basketball and football. Football is expensive, heavy rosters filled with sometimes a hundred players or more. There are television and sponsorship contracts, but there are also expensive coaching contracts, trainers, hotel rooms, travel, uniforms and so on. Since most college campuses enroll 54% women the easiest way pacify the gap in accommodation without effecting revenue sports is to cut lower profile men’s sports.

Reason Four: Cutbacks in Spending
Temple University announced the elimination of 7 collegiate programs, including both the Men’s and Women’s Crew teams late last year. Many schools like Temple are facing tough decisions in the current economic climate. The $3 million savings, less than ten percent of the $44 million athletic budget was earmarked for women’s athletic scholarships, coaching salaries, sports medicine, training, academic counseling and summer tuition for the remaining athletics. Temple cited Title IX as a reason for the cutbacks, even though the Women’s Crew team was sacked. The Crew teams were ultimately saved but Temple works out from tents along the Schuylkill River beside many established collegiate boathouses once their former facility was condemned.

Men’s vs. Women’s Rowing
As a former NCAA women’s rower, my D3 team was part of the Athletic Department at William Smith. We shared our boathouse and docks and traveled (in separate coach buses) with Hobart’s Men’s Crew Club. We dreaded indoor practice at the varsity field house, had a personal trainer and our professors allowed absences for regattas. We were treated like we mattered, as the school invested in us, so we invested in ourselves, raising our morale to be one of the highest-ranked teams in the country. I still dream of how lightweight our boats were.
As a club sport, most Men’s Crew Club Sport teams are regarded unofficial but still follow NCAA and Intercollegiate Rowing Conference guidelines. Like Women’s Collegiate Rowing, Men’s Collegiate Rowing competes at a varsity level at the same venues against many fully funded teams. In addition to scholarships, funding provides access to better equipment, coaching and uniforms. Dependent on private funding, dues, and a college club stipend Men’s crew club sport teams have a hard time stretching what little they have. At UConn, the D1 crew raced with old practice boats so they had to pull harder to compensate for the additional weight of the heavy boat. I did get to yell at boys first thing in the morning, but my coxbox didn’t always amplify my voice, because it was old and didn’t always work. We shared a space and dock with the local high school, drove ourselves to regattas, bought our own uniforms and almost never stayed in hotels. We also rowed sometimes without our best rowers because professors would not allow absences or a chance to make up work because we were a club sport. But Riverfront in Harford has been good to us, letting us practice on their ergs, use their facilities and even borrow their trailers.

First and foremost to any crew is to realize their potential to be competitive despite any obstacle. A rower, is a rower, is a rower. You can always row faster and you can always row better. Once a rower gets into the rhythm of the boat, in sync to that machine-like flow, a rower becomes a cog in something greater than one’s self. To qualify for the Charles we had to place in the top half of the prior year’s regatta. UConn rowed against fully funded schools like Harvard and we didn’t hit a bridge like Harvard did, and the Charles was their home course.
Funding for most collegiate crew club sport teams is something to hope for, but not count on. Most schools are content with club ability and competitive pride while other schools reluctantly support the opportunity. More encouraging, are programs like Michigan adding a varsity club tier for sports like crew. I can’t say that it doesn’t matter, because it does. I love my Huskies, I know that rowing is a lower profile sport than basketball, but I also know the value of being a collegiate athlete is not in funding or accolades, but in the row.
Keating, Peter. “Boys Don’t Cry” ESPN The Magazine. espnmag.com. 24 June 2013.
Keating, Peter. “The Silent Enemy of Men’s Sports” ESPN The Magazine. espnmag.com. 23 May, 2012.
Snyder, Susan. “Temple to drop 7 sports, including baseball, rowing.” philly.com. 8 December 2013.
“Title IX and Men’s Sports: A False Conflict.” Title IX. National Women’s Law Center. Fact Sheet. June 2012. http://www.nwlc.org. Accessed 10 June 2014.

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