Director of Club Sports Tom Migdalski compared the growth of his program to a classic quote from the 1989 movie “Field of Dreams.”
“If you build it, he will come,” he said.
In the 45 years since the program’s inception, Yale has increased the number of club teams from seven to almost 50. Administrators and students attribute the rapid expansion to a variety of factors, including the duplication of varsity sports at the club level, new sources of funding from the Yale College Council, and the creation of a Club Sports Advisory Board (CSAB). Although the program’s growth has strained resources and space, officials said the club sports program now offers an unprecedented array of opportunities.
“Club sports are a lot bigger presence on campus,” said Howard Locker, chair of the CSAB and captain of the men’s club tennis team. “No matter what sport students want to participate in, they’re likely to find it at Yale.”
But club sports have not always played such a role. Forty-five years ago, the Athletic Department only recognized seven “minor sports”: fishing, pony polo, riflery, rugby, sailing, skiing and trap shooting.
In 1984, when Migdalski took the reins of the department from his father, the program had only 18 sports. The elder Migdalski, who was a pioneer of the club sports concept, was instrumental in the program’s inception at Yale. His son has continued the legacy by almost tripling the number of teams during his 23 years at the helm.
Migdalski said the first major factor in his program’s growth was the expansion of the types of sports allowed. Officials in the Athletics Department did not originally permit sports with varsity teams to also have teams at the club level. They worried that varsity athletes who were unsatisfied with their experiences would bolt for club teams.
But about seven years ago, a girl on the varsity women’s soccer team petitioned for a club women’s soccer team. After her request went through, the program rapidly expanded, Migdalski said, paving the way for the creation of tennis, basketball and ice hockey, among others.
He said he has had no complaints from varsity captains since the change.
Larry Matthews, senior associate director of athletics, said the varsity programs cooperate well with club sports by providing equipment and older — but serviceable — uniforms and warm up clothing.
The allowance of crossover sports is just one of the reasons for the program’s expansion. Another crucial factor, administrators and students said, was the YCC’s decision last spring to allot 20 percent of the proceeds from the Students Activities Fee to club sports.
To oversee the distribution of this funding, the YCC created the Club Sports Advisory Board, which Locker currently chairs. The board has seven members, all of whom participate on at least one club team and serve staggered year-long terms. This year, the YCC allocated $33,690 to help teams with the costs of basic items such as uniforms, equipment and travel.
Locker said there is no specific formula for the way the board divides money between different sports. It takes several factors into account, including the size of the team, the number of competitions and the amount of money that the team can raise on its own. He said the board realizes that some sports are more limited than others in their resources, so it tries to be as equitable as possible.
“Now that there is more money, everyone wants a piece of the pie,” Migdalski said.
Because funding is limited, Locker said, it is unlikely any sport will have all of its costs covered by the YCC.
Maurice O’Bryant ’08, captain of the men’s club basketball team, said his team receives enough funding to pay for tournament registration fees; the Club Sports Office also has paid for Peter Pan buses to travel this year. But the group still has to cover other expenses, he said, including the cost of jerseys and shirts.
The board also works with the Club Sports Office to approve and fund new teams. Locker said both authorities require representatives of the prospective sport to present a detailed plan for organizing and running the team. It is important that the representative can ensure that the team will be viable in the long run, he said.
Sandeep Ayyappan ’07, captain of club golf and a member of the board last fall, said the process of starting a club sport was a lot more difficult before the formation of the CSAB. During the 2004-’05 academic year, he said, when he founded club golf, it took several revisions of a proposal and a long series of e-mails before the team was officially approved.
Because approval is impossible without substantial interest from the student body, Ayyappan said, the toughest part of starting a team is demand.
“If you can get a bunch of people together who all are after the same goal, it’s not very difficult,” he said. “And the CSAB will work with you to make it happen.”
Ayyappan said his team began as a group of golf buddies who were looking to play on a more competitive level. Since its inception, the program has played a large part in the formation of the Collegiate Golf Association and has competed in several tournaments each semester.
The men’s club hockey team has also found success over the last few years. Captain and president Alex Kleiner ’08 said his team had nine or 10 members, no coach and no league when it was formed in 2003-’04. Now the team has over 20 players, a coach, and is a member of the 14-school Metropolitan Collegiate Hockey Conference.
“There’s no question that it is difficult to run a club sports team and make it successful,” Kleiner said. “It takes hard work and dedication from every player on the team — from the captain to the last man on the roster.”
Despite the increased funding since last spring, Kleiner said his team cannot function solely on the board’s support because it has to cover expenses including league membership fees, ice time, jerseys, pucks and a coach. Men’s club hockey runs an active fund-raising campaign by reaching out to parents for donations, although the majority of the team’s money comes from players’ membership dues.
“Running a team is not easy, but it is extremely rewarding and fun,” Kleiner said. “People who play club sports are competitive — they grew up playing a relatively high level of athletics and don’t want to give that up at Yale.”
Although most club teams are able to cover their expenses, they face another other challenge: space.
“The program’s growth in terms of overall size has the potential to create something of a facilities crunch for the Athletics Department,” Matthews said. “Our field space and our indoor … spaces must be considered finite resources, and managed carefully.”
Edward Mockus, associate director of intramurals, Payne Whitney Gymnasium and recreation, said it is not just the expansion of club sports but also the explosion of other athletics-related activities that have caused the space shortage. It is often difficult to make gym space available to club sports, he said, due to the demands of physical education classes, undergraduate intramurals, graduate-professional intramurals, regular gymnasium membership and varsity teams.
Despite the space constraints, club sports continue to be a growing trend at Yale and many other campuses around the country. The interest has provided plenty of opportunity for competition with Ivy and non-Ivy schools, even if some teams like pony polo and skiing have far to travel, Migdalski said.
Director of Intramural Sports Carlos Pinela said that due to increased interest, Yale will be hosting an Ivy-wide meeting in June for collegiate administrators to discuss the various non-varsity programs.
“Club sports,” he said. “It’s unstoppable.”