Club Sports: The Long Road to Recognition

Last season, following a winning record and a strong showing in the American Collegiate Hockey Association, the Columbia men's ice hockey club said they sent University President Lee Bollinger and Athletic Director M. Dianne Murphy gift baskets to celebrate its success. But according to players on the team, the gesture only led to more tension with the athletic department. The stationery used for the letters contained the Columbia athletics logo used for varsity sports, and as a club sport, the hockey team was forbidden from using official athletic logos.

Soon after, a banner bearing the same logo was removed from Lerner Hall, after hanging without incident for a year.

"Not only did she [Murphy] not thank us for the gift basket, she actually reprimanded us and tried to get us in trouble," outgoing senior captain Josh Schachter said. "I don't believe she's ever written a policy on the use of the varsity logo."

However, Murphy said that she never received any such basket. According to her, the decision to restrict club sports from using the logo was due to an increased emphasis on marketing the Columbia name and protecting its intellectual property.

"We want to make sure there's consistency in the marks that intercollegiate athletics is using, and that we're using that mark properly and consistently, and then develop a mark that club sports will be using," Murphy said. "But they're not an intercollegiate sport, and so we're working on having conversations about what mark is the mark that they should be using. This is very typical. This is very standard in terms of the business of intercollegiate athletics."

The dispute over the use of the logo is just part of a greater divide between club teams with hopes of being elevated to varsity status and the athletic department. Due to a combination of space constraints and a lack of athletic funding, Columbia fields only 29 league teams, the lowest among all Ivies, with no hope of increasing it for the near future.

"We don't have the funds that we need now to support the 29 [sports] that we have," Murphy said. "So, we're not looking to add more."

All of the other Ivy League schools, save Columbia and Penn, have a men's and a women's ice hockey team. Columbia is also the only school in the league that does not field a men's lacrosse or squash team. The University's squash, lacrosse, and hockey players play at the club level, partially supported by the athletic department, and still believe that they can influence the department to recognize them as varsity teams.

The hockey club has been around for over 40 years, and the sport itself has had a presence in Morningside Heights since the turn of the century. However, the ice hockey team faces the same difficulty that burdens and restricts the rest of the Columbia campus: a lack of space.

"The major obstacle for us would be the facilities," Schachter said.

"We don't have the facility [for hockey]," Murphy added. "We don't have the money to build a hockey rink, so we're not going to support adding hockey as a varsity sport."

With no room in the area for a rink, the club has traveled around the New York area to play games and practice. After practicing at the Ice Hutch in Mt. Vernon, N.Y., the team moved to the Ice House in Hackensack, N.J., a 25-minute van ride across the river.

"If they [the athletic department] wanted to develop a team, there are resources," Schachter said. "There are rinks."

Schachter pointed to available facilities in such places as Westchester County, Chelsea Piers, and a semi-indoor rink at 145th Street and Riverside Drive that could be revamped for school use.

Another challenge for the team has been securing funds.

"Funding is an ongoing, continuous issue for us," Schachter said. "We've been working the entire season to raise money, and even at this point, we're still working to raise money at the end of the year."

The players have managed to receive donations from team alumni, and they have also gotten local businesses to support them. In addition, the club collects $500 in dues from each of its members. Although Schachter admitted that the team's funding from the athletic department is in the top 10 percent of all club sports, he insists that it is not enough.

"The school gives us money, but what they give us is about half of what we need," he said.

Due to several of these difficulties, the club has not "proactively tried to become a team lately," according to Schachter.

"A lot of alumni would be interested, and our coach would be interested, in taking the sport to the highest level," he said.

Another sport frustrated in its attempts to move to the varsity level is men's lacrosse. Columbia is the lone school in the Ivy League without a varsity program. This is a surprising fact considering the popularity of lacrosse in the northeast, as well as the national profile of other Ivy schools, such as Princeton and Cornell, in the sport.

"I was shocked when I found out that Columbia did not have a varsity lacrosse team," said Julien Barbey, a freshman member of the lacrosse club. "When you think of the Ivy League, you think of lacrosse."

While there has been a varsity women's team since 1997, the men's lacrosse club has subsisted on funds from the athletic department. According to Barbey, the team currently receives funds of $5,500 from the athletic department, but he describes the ideal budget as being from $6,500-$7,000.

"I e-mailed Dianne Murphy a few times, and I e-mailed people like Dean [Chris] Columbo and President Bollinger and never got responses back from them," Barbey said.

However, Murphy has said that she does not recall not responding to e-mails or calls, although she admitted that she may have passed the team's information along to Brian Gines, the club sports director. Gines was hired this year as the first-ever director of club sports, a position that had previously been combined with other athletic department tasks.

"We have a person who manages club sports. It's his responsibility to work with those students," Murphy said. "They need to work through the appropriate channels."

"When I inquired about us becoming a varsity team, he [Gines] was kind of vague, saying that it would be very difficult for anything to happen in the near future," Barbey said.

Given the athletic administration's promotion of the potential of Columbia sports, Barbey could not see the problem of making the men's lacrosse team a varsity sport. He especially noted the healthy market for men's lacrosse in the Ivy League, as well as the existing and available facilities.

"I think step one is to start winning some good games, and I think two is getting our name out there, especially to people like Dianne Murphy," he said.

The Columbia squash team also has hopes of moving up to the varsity level. Although it is only a club sport, the squash team competes against other schools' varsity teams, and it has been ranked 34th in the country. The school squash facilities also put the team at a disadvantage, as Columbia's squash courts are the American size, which is smaller than the international-size courts that most college squash programs use. However, co-captain Bobby Ghosh believes that the team can still compete with the current court sizes.

"As far as I know, we don't have to have regulation-size courts to have a varsity team," he said, noting that Fordham and Haverford have American-size courts and varsity squash programs. "I don't see why we can't have a varsity program with non-regulation-size courts, because other teams have done it."

Murphy maintained the importance of having international-size courts for squash to compete at the varsity level.

"Our squash facilities that we have are non-regulation. They're not international size. We need to have international courts. We don't have them," she said.

In light of Title IX regulations, Ghosh even started a women's squash team this year and coaches them twice a week. He hopes to get them to the club level next year so that Title IX will no longer be an issue.

Despite the steps the club has taken to petition for varsity status, Ghosh feels that the athletic department has reacted with general indifference. He points to the time when a prominent alumnus of the squash team, Peter Lasusa, invited Murphy to a national squash tournament in New York. The occasion was to demonstrate to the athletic director the potential for a squash team. Murphy canceled the appointment just before the tournament.

"Obviously, this completely devalued the whole thing," Ghosh said.

He wrote Murphy letters last fall, notifying her of the new women's squash team, but he has never received a direct response from her. Over time, Ghosh has become more frustrated with the athletic department's refusal to consider fielding a squash team at the varsity level.

"To my knowledge, I have not received any letter or e-mail asking for a meeting with me," Murphy said. "I've never refused to meet with anybody."

"I don't know what other hoops there are to jump through," Ghosh said. "It really just takes some time and commitment, which I guess are somewhat lacking in the athletic department."

Despite the club teams' hopes, Murphy maintained that funding and facility constraints will preclude the athletic department from adding any new varsity sports.

"We do not have the resources, nor the space, nor the facilities to add any other club sports to varsity status at this time," she said. "We're not going to dilute the quality of our athletics programs to take on other club sports as a varsity sport. We're just not going to do it."

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