Field Frustrations: Club sports teams deprioritized

September 24, 2022

Image Credit: The Georgetown Voice Graphic by Jina Zhao

When Georgetown Athletics told the men’s rugby team they couldn’t use Cooper Field just two hours before their scheduled practice time, the team played anyway—on Healy Lawn, cleats and all. 

The issue wasn’t just the lost practice time. On Aug. 30, Georgetown Athletics and the Center for Student Engagement (CSE) informed club sports teams that field space for games could only be confirmed on a weekly basis, preventing teams from communicating their game schedules. Now, Georgetown wasn’t even offering club sports a guaranteed place to practice. 

“I get it, varsity soccer is varsity soccer. Our issue was that we were not told until two hours before,” Mark Kearney (SFS ’23), captain of the men’s rugby team, said. According to Kearney, club coaches make major time commitments to visit campus, and athletes structure their weekly schedule around practices. So, club rugby staged an informal protest with an unsanctioned Healy Lawn practice. “We were just students throwing around a ball, a little bit of a ‘sticking it to the man’ situation,” Kearney said. 

Club sports teams feel neglected by Georgetown’s new field scheduling policies. While varsity teams understandably take precedence in field use, the new policy threatens clubs’ seasons if they are forced to forfeit games.

“They basically told us, ‘club sports does not have a priority to any of the spaces on campus.’ We have less priority to field space than anyone else,” Claire Smith (SFS ’23), captain of the women’s frisbee B team, explained. In addition to only scheduling club games a week in advance, club practices can be canceled at any time to accommodate changes in varsity schedules. 

Club sports did not play on campus in the fall of 2021 due to COVID-19, making this fall the first season in two years the university needed to schedule varsity and club games simultaneously. Club sports teams are under the jurisdiction of the Advisory Board for Club Sports (ABCS) and the CSE, but the use of Cooper Field is coordinated by the athletics department. Club sports teams are now in a battle with all three bodies to secure once-guaranteed spaces.

“By NCAA rules, visiting teams for varsity sports have to be given a practice time, so Georgetown wanted to wait for these teams to confirm when they get to D.C.,” Liam Jodrey (COL ’24), captain of the men’s club soccer B team, explained. “As a knock-on effect, they did not schedule the club sports games.” 

Georgetown Athletics’ failure to schedule games causes serious implications for club teams’ seasons. Men’s club soccer games must be scheduled and played by a certain date, or the team risks probation or suspension from their league. If games are canceled, they are difficult to make up as other teams’ schedules are already set.

“[CSE and Athletics] were just not sympathetic to that at all,” Jodrey said. “I would have felt horrible had I been the one on watch when we got put on probation.” 

Men’s club soccer isn’t the only team at risk of losing league standing due to field use issues. Kearney explained that the men’s rugby team’s inability to communicate a schedule with their league could derail the season if they forfeit games. 

“It would impact the likelihood of playoffs or going to nationals,” Kearney explained. “We are an ambitious team hoping to go far. If we were to lose a league game because we weren’t able to get Cooper, it would be a devastating way for the season to end.”

Given the high stakes of forfeited games, club sports leaders have jumped into action, submitting concerns over the new policies. Club leaders in rugby, soccer, and frisbee sent emails to ABCS and the CSE, and Jodrey contacted alumni who also communicated their frustration with Georgetown’s Athletics director. 

“There has been a big uproar from club sports, in my opinion, rightfully so,” Kearney said, explaining that Athletics has now blocked out Cooper Field from 6 p.m. to midnight on weekends for club games. “They only did that after people complained a lot. I think we got the message across,” Jodrey said. 

Set-aside field times resolve some of the challenges faced by club sports teams, but not all. Kearney explained that rugby league rules require games to be played during the hours of 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., which go outside Georgetown’s allotted hours for club sports’ field use. “We are grappling with the university and our league setting requirements for us. Because they don’t jive together, we are running into quite a few problems,” he said. 

Both the club men’s soccer and rugby teams have tried to find new solutions by playing on fields off campus. Last weekend, rugby moved their game from Cooper to an off-campus field to accommodate their league’s 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. time range for games. Kearney explained that the costs of reserving fields and transportation create financial strain on the club. 

“We have to pay for that field and Georgetown has given us no indication they will be providing us any financial support in that regard,” he said. If they spend their budget on field reservations, Kearney explained, men’s club rugby will struggle to hire EMTs and purchase safety equipment. It will also impede the team’s ability to travel for away games.  

Men’s club soccer has run into similar difficulties. According to Jodrey, the club considered seeking other field space in D.C., but found all the fields had been booked since the beginning of August. The team is unsure if it has the budget to reserve off-campus fields. 

“The university also refused to comment on whether we would have to fund the costs to reserve all these fields from our budget, which we probably wouldn’t have the money for,” Jodrey said. 

Beyond games, club teams have struggled to solidify spaces and times for practice. Practice times are impacted by Cooper field’s stadium lights being turned off, or by varsity sports moving their practices due to weather. With club sports practice spaces potentially occupied with mere hours notice, club leaders must scramble to acquire backup fields. According to students in the Aug. 30 meeting, ABCS and the CSE instructed club sports not to interfere with varsity practices. If any varsity players showed up during club practice times, club teams would be expected to accommodate them. 

For ultimate frisbee, regular practices are essential to keeping the sport open and accessible. Jacob Livesay (COL ’23), captain of the men’s frisbee A team, explained that at peak activity levels, the men and women’s teams have about 200 participants in total. Ultimate frisbee is a no-cut team, meaning all are welcome to play, and tryouts are only held for those wishing to secure a spot on the A teams. 

“I can’t emphasize enough how important practice is to our team. Our entire model relies on converting athletes from other sports, which means we constantly have to be teaching the sport of ultimate frisbee for the success of our players,” Livesay said. 

Smith explained that changes in practice times and spaces are confusing for new players. “This is the time of year we are trying to recruit more people and be welcoming, so we need a sense of normalcy,” Smith said. 

Even when granted field space, frisbee teams flag safety concerns. In the past, both men’s and women’s practices have shared Cooper, each taking half the field. With up to 200 participants in the club, however, Livesay explains Cooper is just too small for both teams to practice without collisions or frisbees crossing to the other half.

Men’s club frisbee reached out to ABCS in advance of the season, requesting that the men’s and women’s practices be separated. Though requests were initially well received, according to Livesay, men’s club frisbee was then paired with women’s softball. 

“Instead of dodging people in the women’s program, we are now dodging softballs,” Livesay said. 

Only practicing on half of Cooper—smaller than a normal frisbee field—also creates inaccessibility issues. While the club prioritizes teaching new players, athletes with ultimate frisbee experience from high school on larger fields are likely to be more competitive in tryouts for the A teams. 

“The way we have been given field space means we never get to practice on a full field until an official competition,” Livesay explained. “This means that people who were exposed to ultimate frisbee in high school are the ones who are going to get roster spots and the most minutes in game time,” he said. 

Ultimate frisbee is already a sport with predominantly white athletes, as the sport is offered mostly in white and affluent communities and high schools. Ultimate’s homogeneity and history of racism are long-standing barriers towards greater inclusion in frisbee. Livesay stressed the need to promote accessibility in a club designed to be open for all students. “We do our best to make sure that people who haven’t played before, especially players of color or players from different backgrounds, have an opportunity to learn the game,” he said.

Club leaders explained they do not blame any specific party, as they are aware the CSE is understaffed. They also understand the difficulties that come with coordination between the CSE, ABCS, and the athletics department. The Director of Facilities, Events & Operations position, who schedules field use, has not been consistently staffed since the summer of 2021, leading to additional challenges. 

“As an urban campus with limited on-campus space and facilities, 30 Division I Varsity Sports, and more than 30 club teams and numerous intramural recreational sports, we recognize the limitations and work hard to maximize access for all students as best we can,” a university spokesperson wrote.

Kearney acknowledged the university’s challenges. “ABCS and CSE have quite a tricky job in that they are obviously representing a lot of teams to Athletics to use the facilities and don’t want to ruffle any feathers,” he said. “I have a lot of sympathy for what they do. It’s just frustrating to go through the extra steps of communication.”

Frisbee has been granted permission to use Kehoe Field as a backup practice space, but requests must be processed through the CSE. According to Livesay, club sports leaders asked the CSE to be cc’d on emails regarding their field requests, but were denied, as these emails filter through multiple departments. According to Livesay, club sports leaders just want more transparency and communication.  

“We still really don’t have updates on things as we try to get them scheduled. We submit requests, but then they just sit in the void for a while,” Livesay said. “We try very hard to give them as much grace as we can, but it is very frustrating when it impacts our sport,” he said. 

Livesay explained that while students handling finances have Blueprint Training, club sports leaders were not prepared for the season’s unexpected stressors. Team captains should be focusing on maximizing practices and building competitive teams, not scrambling for field space. “Other schools’ team captains aren’t having to deal with this logistical stuff, and can spend time on actual things that are going to win them games,” he said.

Moving forward, Livesay hopes to see more university support for club sports, including securing more practice spaces. Shaw and Kehoe, for instance, often go unused for most of the day. Additional ABCS funding for off-campus fields could also be an easy solution to scheduling conflicts. Club sports leaders have also asked the CSE to coordinate use of Georgetown Visitation Preparatory School’s nearby field.

Kearney hopes that club sports teams are granted more respect as strong athletic programs playing in competitive leagues. “When we go out there and play, we represent Georgetown,” he said. “It’s a bad look for us when we can’t play on our own field because our university won’t let us.”

Until policy changes are negotiated, however, club sports teams cannot help but feel deprioritized and frustrated. “As a student leader, speaking for club sports, they have made it hell for us,” Kearney said. “Club sports are awesome. It’s a great experience for all involved, but the university makes it such a pain in the ass. When it’s not in the classroom, the university doesn’t seem to care about cura personalis that much.”


Editor’s note: Livesay once contributed to the Voice. The article has been updated to reflect a correction in one of Kearney’s quote.

Sarah Watson
Sarah is the former Spring 2022 Editor-in-Chief and a senior in the SFS studying Regional and Comparative Studies. She is a national park enthusiast and really just wants to talk about mountains.

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