This post was contributed via our own Aubrey Badger.
Arizona State University is creating $80 million worth of renovations to Sun Devil Stadium, home of the football team, which has not won a national championship since 1987.
The ASU hockey team, which took home a national championship title last year, receives $9,000 from the school annually.
When ASU athletic director Ray Anderson spoke at the Tempe History Museum April 17 about the renovations to Sun Devil Stadium, he was asked about club sports at ASU that aren’t part of a varsity level, and why they aren’t NCAA-sanctioned.
“If you’re going to be an elite, world-class athletic program, if it’s my choice, I don’t like the fact that Stanford and UCLA have all the sports that can be available on a varsity basis to men and women and we don’t,” Anderson said. “I find that personally unacceptable, particularly with the size of this university, so if I have my way, we’re going to address our Title IX balancing needs, we’re going to address our fundraising needs, cause I want folks to come here knowing that if there’s varsity athletics to be played anywhere in the country, I wanna have Arizona State as my first choice to go do that.”
While Anderson, hired in January 2014, has a lot of enthusiasm, head hockey coach Greg Powers doesn’t see his team going NCAA in the near future.
ASU hockey is governed by the American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA), an association that includes over 450 collegiate teams across the country, according to its website. The ACHA has three tiers of men’s teams, Divisions I, II and III, and Divisions I and II for women.
ASU’s top team is in Division I, but also has two Division II teams. The University of Arizona and the University of Colorado also have Division I teams. Most of the schools in the Pac-12 have Division II teams.
The ASU Division I team won the ACHA National Championship last year.
“Our budget just for DI alone is near $250,000. When you throw in our DII teams, we’re at over $500,000 annually. Last year we received exactly $9,000 from ASU,” Powers said. “Because of the size of our program, we have about 100 student athletes paying full tuition, which is more than $1.5 million annually in tuition dollars for ASU.”
Despite the financial obstacles that playing hockey entails, Powers has not let that stop him from finding the best players around the country, as well as internationally.
“I don’t let full tuition stand in the way of recruiting top talent,” Powers said. “Every player on our team had the opportunity to play NCAA hockey. I look for the right kid, in addition to them being an elite talent. They want to play where there is a passion behind a program, even if that means paying for their education.”
If ASU hockey were an NCAA program, they would be fully funded by ASU and have 18 scholarships to give to players. Title IX would require ASU to add 18 more women’s hockey scholarships.
Title IX states that any institution receiving federal funding has to provide equal opportunities for male and female students, in all facets of the institution, athletics included.
“When you look at what offerings ASU has from an athletic perspective, why we have some teams over another, if you look at the sheer volume of sports that can be offered by any athletic program, it’s staggering,” Dawn Rogers, a senior associate athletic director and senior woman administrator for ASU said. “Each institution looks at their athletic program and makes a decision about what teams they wanna offer, what resources they have, what facilities they have for each sport.”
Sophomore and Division II hockey player Scotty Farr has been playing hockey for 16 years, and decided to come to ASU to play hockey because it was close to home and because ASU has a good hockey reputation.
“Financially, it costs a ton of money to become NCAA, and you have to remember there’s Title IX so that plays a part in it, there has to be a rink on campus, it has to be a certain size, and stuff like that, so that’s probably the biggest issue, because the talent’s there,” Farr said.
He said at the beginning of each season, that each team member is required to pay $3,200, which covers ice usage at Oceanside Ice Arena in Tempe and transportation on buses to games. He said the Division I team does a lot of fundraising for equipment, and their old equipment is passed down to the Division II and III teams.
Farr said he thinks hockey isn’t an NCAA sport at ASU because the financial burden would be too much for the university.
Hockey is typically a stand-alone sport, meaning that the facilities and equipment necessary to the sport couldn’t be used for other purposes. Building an ice rink on campus isn’t something that’s high on ASU’s list of priorities.
“I think the one thing to remember is that we’re working really hard to give our existing programs all the tools necessary to compete at the highest level, so it becomes really tricky when you start to talk about adding stand-alone programs,” said Rogers. “I think right now we’re really focused on making sure the programs that we have, have everything they need to compete at the highest level.”
While it seems that the steps necessary to make hockey an NCAA sport at ASU are currently out of reach, other club sports think they have what it takes to compete at the varsity level.
“I think that the men’s rugby club has certainly got its act together and is very orientated to putting rugby on the map and making it a very high-level collegiate sport at ASU,” head coach Gary Lane said.
He said the rugby program is a self-sustainable program, meaning it’s not going to require a lot of funding from the university.
“We have a business plan that we are implementing, a five-year program, and at the end of it, no one from ASU athletics will have had to put their hand in their pocket,” Lane said.
USA Rugby governs all collegiate rugby. While some programs are recognized as varsity programs at their universities, none is NCAA-sanctioned. ASU rugby plays in the Pac conference, a conference within Division I-AA of collegiate rugby.
The men’s program at ASU is divided into three teams, academy, which gives all players a chance to participate, junior varsity, a building program for players who have the potential to play varsity in the future, and varsity.
There is also a women’s club team.
Freshman rugby player Dominic Banaga was considering other schools based on their rugby programs, but when he came to ASU to stay with the members of the team, they immediately made him feel like family.
“It’s really easy to form a bond with these guys,” Banaga said. “Just being able to have prospects spend time with the team helps us recruit players.”
The cost to play rugby at ASU is $800 per year, which includes uniforms, practice equipment, training gear, transportation, and some meals.
“It’s a hefty cost on already struggling college kids but we get to do a lot and we do fundraise to keep the dues down where they are,” Banaga said. “We’d love to pay less but it’s expensive to travel around everywhere. We could definitely use more funding, but with the brotherhood that we have formed, I would never let my brothers down and I’ll find a way to pay and I’d say most of us would agree.”
Despite paying not only tuition, but dues for rugby as well, Lane is not discouraged about being able to recruit players from out-of-state, and even out-of-country.
“We recruit actively, out of the 23 starters that we have on our team, 21 are from out of state and come here to play rugby,” Lane said. “Over four years, the ASU rugby team brings $5.8 million in revenue to Arizona State University, and in return, we get $52,000. Is there an inequity? Yeah. ASU has a pretty good deal with its rugby team.”
Similar to Powers, Lane said he doesn’t let the lack of financial support deter him from getting top players to come to ASU for rugby. He said what really hurts the program is the lack of facilities.
“What we need is better facilities, we need a strength and conditioning program by professionals, that would be a major advantage to us,” Lane said. “When athletes are around other student athletes they work better, and being in that environment would obviously help. We know we’re not football, but I will tell you that people are interested in our sport, and we get crowds to our games.”
The first annual Fiat of Scottsdale Rugby Bowl on April 12 drew nearly 3,500 spectators for a single game.
“Rugby is a fast growing sport and very exciting sport to watch,” Banaga said. “With help from the university we could get more equipment and be able to travel to farther places and play in front of larger crowds.”
Lane said his team is not far off from being able to compete at the highest level.
“If athletics gave us the help we needed, we could be the top team in the nation within three years,” Lane said.