Don't let multimillion-dollar training complexes, massive football stadiums and national television exposure fool you: College athletic programs don't come with an endless pool of finances.
Only so many varsity sports can be supported, but there is nothing to stop a motivated college athlete from cobbling a club team together, as long as they are OK with no school support or scholarships to lure in fresh blood.
Club sports do enjoy freedoms that varsity sports do not. No sport is too obscure to be a club sport. All it takes are enough willing competitors to field a team, and at least one other team out there in the country willing to play against it.
Craig McAlister, the head coach of the University of Central Oklahoma hockey team, said that part of the burden of being a club sports coach and athlete is the extra time spent on fund-raisers. Players must fund their own equipment and travel; coaches are unpaid; and no medical staff is provided by the school. Because hockey is such a physical sport, McAlister said that all teams must be associated with a medical professional, and that a secondary insurance is provided through USA Hockey in cases of serious injury.
FLOCK TO THE SCHOOL
UCO entered the 2009-10 season ranked 12 in the American Collegiate Hockey Association. When debuting the team three seasons ago, McAlister opted to enter Division I, the top division in the ACHA, with the knowledge that the first few seasons would be rough, but that better players would flock to the school.
UCO hockey is now in its fourth year, and McAlister said the team has developed a strong core, which is key to holding a club sports team together.
The trick will be replacing those core members once they graduate. Few club sports have done it better than the University of Oklahoma rugby team, which has managed to hold its team together for more than 30 years.
"I believe the ability to keep new players interested and returning, as well as being such a good environment for camaraderie and competition, has allowed the rugby club to continue and even flourish in many perspectives," team captain Taylor Mokate said.
Unlike most sports, rugby is year-round, including summer tournaments. Mokate has a unique perspective on club sports since he has seen what it's like on the varsity side.
"From my short stint as a football player here, I would have to say it's like trying to compare apples to crimson-and-cream oranges: similar colors, but the fan base and the amount of time spent training are on very opposite ends of the spectrum," he said. "We ask for two hour-and-a-half-long training sessions a week, so three hours on the field, and then suggest outside training when possible, as well as weekend games and trips. It's a very small price to pay for the experience and competitive challenge."
Ultimate Frisbee is among the sports most synonymous with college campuses. It might seem like an easy choice for a club team to start, since little more is needed than a disc and an open field, but it requires serious conditioning, as players are constantly running.
Apes of Wrath and Never Mrs. are the OU men's and women's Ultimate Frisbee teams. Apes team captain James Spann said the teams practice three times a week. Players will travel as far as Florida, Georgia and Las Vegas for tournaments.
"It takes a lot of time out of weekends since we travel a lot," said Kaitlin Nicholas, Never Mrs. Captain. "Playing a sport that requires me to not study every few weekends has taught me to be extremely organized so I can get done what I need to do during the week, rather than on the weekends."
Because Ultimate Frisbee is a game of endurance, players are encouraged to get in as much time training as they can carve out of their schedule. According to Nicholas, that means most of the time not dedicated to study is spent with team members.
"The people I hang out with are largely on the Ultimate teams, so it just becomes a really fun social thing, as well as a really good way to stay in shape," she said. "When it comes down to it, I just love the sport." "Charles Martin