The University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign boasts a club sports program that aims to, “promote student participation in a variety of physical and athletic activities, whether recreational, instructional, or competitive in nature.” Currently, Illinois has thirty six different club sports teams across genders. Many of them compete at national levels. The University of Illinois also boasts 19 Division 1 (D1) teams including the football and basketball teams. However, despite the promise of support for both Illinois club sports teams and Division 1 teams, one receives much more than the other.
How are club sports and Division 1 teams different at Illinois?
Illini Lacrosse Team
The Illini lacrosse team is a club sports team that compete in the Men's Collegiate Lacrosse Association (MCLA) rather than the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). They are considered Division 1 in the MCLA. They have 25 members and one coach. At the beginning of the year, each athlete has to pay a fee of $2,000 to fund the team’s travel throughout the year for their conferences and their gear. This year’s season saw two home games and six away games, partly because the team is not allowed to use the turf fields, the only fields that are equipped to host a lacrosse game, before April when their season is already over halfway over. When compared to another team Division 1 team in the MCLA like Brigham Young University (BYU), Illinois falls short in every facet. BYU’s team has 44 members, just under twice as much as the Illini lacrosse team. They also have six coaches. BYU has also hosted 9 home games as opposed to another 9 away games. BYU does not receive any funding from the school but the players are expected to pay higher dues. However, UIUC’s tuition is roughly twice as much as BYU’s tuition giving their students some leeway to be able to pay higher dues. Plus, BYU has a program that provides some scholarship to the lacrosse players whereas sports scholarships in Illinois are only offered to Division 1 teams. BYU also has their own field as well as ticketed games which also helps with funding their team. Furthermore, donating to the team is not tax deductible which discourages potential donors. BYU’s stats this season, 12 wins to 4 losses, illustrates the effect more funding and more accessibility to facilities can make or break a team. BYU ranks the sixth in the MCLA the Illinois turf fields don’t have many seating areas, bathrooms, concession stands or a scoreboard which makes it near impossible to draw a crowd larger than 60 people so the team wouldn’t be able to ticket their events. Potential recruits also come to these games and when they see the conditions the team plays in, often times they get discouraged from playing for the Illini team and take offers at other schools or just quit the sport altogether. The Illini team are also not allowed to practice on the turf fields because administration likes to keep them open for intramurals and free play so they have to practice on the Campus Recreation fields. Those fields do not have any lights so the players have to practice between five pm to seven pm before the sun sets. However, since so many of the players live across campus and have late classes, attendance suffers. If club sports athletes were given early registration benefits like varsity athletes, they would be able to work around their athletic schedules but since they do not enjoy that benefit, they must endure even more restrictions to their sport.
What effect do these differences have on club sports athletes?
The severity of the difference in treatment between club sports and Division 1 teams calls into question whether the university thinks club sports athletes are any less than Division 1 athletes. Nothing the university has done is technically illegal but it speaks to how Illinois views club sports like lacrosse or rugby, versus basketball or football despite the fact that they both require the same dedication, effort and passion from the athletes. Does the fact that intramural sports get priority when it comes to time on the turf fields mean that, in the eyes of the university, they are more deserving of the proper facilities? When asked about the effect these differences have on the lacrosse team’s morale, Carmen Scuito, Senior Midfielder and Face-off Specialist, said, “For myself, I focus more on how I do in my sport. Sometimes thinking about the small perks varsity athletes get can make us feel ‘less than’ just because we’re a club team compared to NCAA teams.” Additionally, Illinois does not have any other organized lacrosse team, so the most talented lacrosse players that the university has to offer are on the club sport team, unlike other club sports that also have a NCAA varsity team. The University of Illinois embraces diversity and inclusion across all identities, and yet the variance between the benefits and treatments varsity teams and club sports receive directly violates the university’s mission to stay inclusive.