Unfolding Gettysburg College club sports

The Gettysburg College Club Baseball Team. Photo courtesy of the author.

Photo courtesy of the Gettysburg College Club Baseball Team.

By Daniel Kagan, Contributing Writer

I write to inform the community of a consistently recurring issue within our Gettysburg College community. This is with regards to the formation of club sports teams on our campus as a whole, regardless of the particular sport. Over my past three and a half years at Gettysburg College the formation of various club sports teams, including Women’s Lacrosse and Soccer, as well as Men’s Lacrosse, Soccer, and Baseball (to keep the list short), have all been obstructed. The groups that have been responsible for these obstructions are the Athletic Department, but more so, the decisions made by executive members of the Gettysburg College Administration.

In my experience meeting with various Gettysburg employees who are responsible for overseeing college athletics, including a Vice-President, I have received either polite non-answers, or poor excuses that could be fixed as a result of simply effort.

It is a matter of liability that Gettysburg College cannot afford. It puts them at too much risk. Assuming that the club sports team is a member of a national organization, we cannot allow for you to use our official varsity fields. The reason is because if someone gets injured, then the company can file a lawsuit against Gettysburg College, and this is simply not a risk that the College is willing to take. We cannot sanction club sports teams where the varsity option for that sport already exists for two reasons.

The first is because it will interfere with recruiting and potentially the quality of our teams. As the Athletic Department and with respect to their goals, it is counter-productive to be pushing and pulling students between teams when we only have 2,900 students as it is, and roughly 25% of our students play varsity sports. NCAA Division III is also fundamentally driven by academics, inherently making it harder to recruit.

The second reason is that as a sanctioned team of the Gettysburg College Athletic Department, you are entitled to certain rights and standards. Some of these things include providing coaches, financing for transportation, uniforms, equipment, officials, access to athletic department staff, etc. We do not have the ability to make these types of accommodations for every club sport that someone decides that they want to start.

Liability is of course the main concern of Gettysburg College, and it is understood that taking unnecessary risks are simply unacceptable and unprofessional. But there are two arguments in response to the first reason regarding liabilities. I will use the unofficial Gettysburg Club Baseball Team as an example of why liabilities are not an issue.

We are members of the National Club Baseball Association (NCBA), which is the governing body that is responsible for organizing various colleges throughout the country into different divisions, and holding them to certain standards in order to guarantee that at least 15 7-inning baseball games are played by each team per year. One of the requirements of being a member of the NCBA is paying a $1,600 annual team fee (that we happen to fundraise ourselves, but most schools have their respective college’s help). As a member of the NCBA, we are entitled to “Team coverage under an NCBA premium pre-paid $2 million general liability insurance policy”. Because of this, the NCBA is willing to extend their liability insurance for individual baseball fields/organizations that are worried about the same issue as Gettysburg College is, a lawsuit. All that we have to do is pay $78 and they will award our team with a Liability Insurance Certificate for an individual field, even if it is our own. The League Participation Agreement that we must sign in order to play, as well as the Liability Insurance Certificate, ensure these conditions.

What this means is that even if Gettysburg College did not want to help us pay, we could pay slightly extra in order to insure ourselves on our own varsity baseball field. Personally I believe that it would be appalling to have students pay for outsourcing insurance policies on a field that our tuition already goes towards maintaining. But, if $78 extra is the only legitimate reason standing between us and playing on our own incredible varsity field, we could easily raise the sufficient funds from amongst our team members.

Now, in the College’s defense, they have a heightened awareness of injury liabilities as a result of being sued in 1993, a case resulting in state-wide precedents being set with regards to student-athletes.

Kleinknecht v. Gettysburg College:

On September 16th, 1988 a student who was a member of the Gettysburg varsity lacrosse program died of cardiac arrest in the middle of a practice. As a result, the student’s parents sued the college for negligence, claiming that the College’s lack of medical personnel present at the time of the arrhythmia attack was the reason for their son’s death. At the time, Gettysburg College’s policy was that medical personnel were only required to be at official college events. Otherwise they were supposed to be in the athletic office. This meant that upon the emergency occurring, students had to run to the athletic office and back to the field before the ambulance could be called.

Although the College won the case as a result of the court ruling, the question of liability rose to the surface of their crisis prevention priorities quickly.

“The College had no duty to anticipate and guard against the chance of a fatal arrhythmia in a young and healthy athlete…The court also held that the actions taken by the College did not negligently breach any duty that might exist.”

This court case resulted in two precedents for the state of Pennsylvania. The first was the creation of an official “Duty of Care.” The reason that this had to be defined was because in order to be held to a claim of negligence, there needs to be a legal responsibility in which the responsible party did not hold up to their legal obligations for the party they are responsible for. This led to the definition of a “Special Relationship” among student-athletes in Pennsylvania. As a result, any student who participates in athletics officially sanctioned by the college is entitled to certain medical care on campus such as getting taped up before games, injury evaluation, etc. Additionally, there are no defined ways of how one could lose their status of having a “Special Relationship”, thus if you have ever played in varsity or sanctioned club athletics, and you are injured during a game, the school is liable. All this means, however, is that students who have played on a college sanctioned athletic team cannot play for a non-sanctioned club team because they will not be extended those “Special Relationship” rights. This still has zero effect on students who have not participate in college sanctioned athletics. It makes sense that the College would not want to take a blatant risk at being sued, but do not act as if there is nothing that can be done. Simply do not allow any previous varsity athletes to play a club sport; then the College would not be liable because the participating students would not deserving of “Special Relationship” medical attention.

Gettysburg College takes on many risks by functioning as an undergraduate college every day. More specifically, sanctioned organizations such as Greek Life, GRAB, and affiliated study-abroad programs are fundamentally risky organizations and activities to sanction; yet we do it proudly. Why? Because we have the awareness to acknowledge that although there might be risks associated with any of these organizations, we also have the competency to promote these sort of activities and see it through that their associated liabilities will not negatively effect Gettysburg College. I have a hard time believing that the College legal counsel would legitimately have more concerns about the liabilities of hosting a few athletic games, compared to Fraternities, for example, of which I am a part of a large one on campus. To build off of this point, every year there are registered parties that result in not only alcohol-related medical issues (i.e. transports), but also dozens of reported sexual assaults. Again, these occur at college-sanctioned events. I think that it is safe to say that letting adults participate in athletics is slightly less of a liability than the aforementioned…

I think that I can safely say that no member of the Gettysburg College community actively wants to make our varsity programs worse. The creation of club sports teams where a varsity option already exists, although it may have an effect on some sports teams, is secondary to the well being, enjoyment, and most importantly, opportunities of students at Gettysburg College.

Similarly, although the Athletic Department may have a conflict of interest regarding recruiting, the President of the College is the one who oversees all college activities. This is explicitly stated in Article VIII, Section 2 of the Gettysburg College Bylaws. Specifically, the first responsibility that is “understood to be the special province of the President” is “To manage the overall activities of the College”. This means that the President has the power to make an executive decision that a re-evaluation of the club sports’ current situation needs to be made, because it is

in the best interest of the student body of Gettysburg College.

The following is a reduced list of colleges and universities that are strictly NCAA Division III in these respective sports where they have club options. In other words, they do not seem to run into these alleged recruiting or funding issues that we seem to be worried about.

Gettysburg College Annual Tuition:

~ $49,140

Club Baseball: College/University Annual Tuitions 2015-16

Emory University $45,700

Franklin & Marshall College $46,285

Johns Hopkins University $48,710

York College $16,480

Stevenson University $28,864

Ithaca College $40,658

New York University $23,875

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) $48,100

Roanoke College $36,688

Salisbury University $16,906 (Out of state)

Women’s Club Lacrosse:

Rose-Hulman Institute of Tech $41,865

Carnegie Mellon University $47,600

Grove City College $16,154

University of Chicago $44,178

Wheaton College $32,950

Lake Forest College $20,960

Men’s Club Lacrosse:

Lynchburg College $34,610

Washington & Lee College $46,417

Dickinson College $47,242

Salisbury University $16,906 (Out of state)

Catholic University $40,400

Stevenson University $28,864

Washington College $42,592

New York University $23,875

Cabrini College $28,932

Women’s Club Soccer:

Johns Hopkins University $48,710

Salisbury University $16,906 (Out of state)

Stevenson University $28,864

Hamilton College $49,500

Messiah College $31,410

Bloomsburg University $33,916 (Out of state)

Dickinson College $47,242

Men’s Club Soccer:

Johns Hopkins University $48,710

Tufts University (2 teams) $49,520

Messiah College $31,410

Millersville College $20,336 (Out of state)

Shippensburg College $18,726

Franklin & Marshall College $46,285

Dickinson College $47,242

Trinity College $48,446

Babson College $43,520

Swarthmore College $47,442

Haverford College $48,656

RPI $48,100

Carnegie Mellon University $47,600

This is a list of only 3 collegiate club sports, one of which is only the male option (not including collegiate club softball, which exists). On this list there are many different colleges/universities, including 6 schools in the Centennial Conference, our direct competitors, who have club and varsity options for the same sports. Notice, there is only one college on this entire list that charges more for tuition than we do at Gettysburg College. The point of this is not to point out or show any opinion about the actual costs of our college. But rather, what is important to see is that we are perfectly deserving of an acceptable club sports program based on the money that we pay. It is a service that with appropriate public interest should be afforded to us. It is a matter of reallocation of resources that stands in between Gettysburg College and their potential club sports program. Similarly, many of these schools are highly competitive in their respective NCAA Division III Conferences, yet they have club options for those successful varsity sports. It seems that there is not much of a correlation at all between having both club and varsity options and the success of the varsity programs; that is an assumption.

It is for all of these reasons why not just myself, but many members of the Gettysburg College community, including students, alumni, parents and even faculty (although some of them may be reluctant to publically acknowledge their support for the re-evaluation of our club sports programs) believe that the current club sports situation needs to be discussed.

What is clear from the aforementioned points is that Gettysburg College is far from incapable of having a great club sports program. We have the facilities, we have the money, and the reasons being given to us by the administration are poor excuses to not change an issue that has been recurring for years since even before I arrived at Gettysburg College in 2012. The only true reason that the administrators of Gettysburg College have not to improve our club sports program is that they know if they allow one club to form and use the official college facilities, they will need to be prepared to handle a higher volume of people trying to start club sports teams. But there is a very

simple solution to this issue. Create a set of institutionalization standards in the College’s favor, but make it obtainable for students to achieve.

For example, have students who request to start a club team truly prove that they can consistently field interest in the team, as well as show the leadership and initiative to do other tasks such as hiring officials, fundraising, etc. Perhaps make it a requirement that as a sanctioned club team you need to be part of an organization that can extend their insurance policies to our fields. Regardless, a solution to this issue is possible, it is simply a matter of the College deciding to put the effort forth into tasking a few people, students included, to outline the needs of both the College, the students, and what it will require for the College to sanction specific teams. The bottom line is that it is possible and being avoided.

Requests

– Actively re-evaluate the Gettysburg College Club Sports program.

– Hold consistent meetings and/or form a committee consisting of Executive and Athletic Administrators, as well as students and other members of the Gettysburg College Community, who are interested in creating a solution to this problem.

– Outline what kind of resources it will take in order to make this happen. What kind of processes would need to be established, and what kind of requirements the College would set forth for future club teams to be established.

– Make a point of implementing this plan within a reasonable amount of time. Reasonable is defined as being before the Class of 2019 graduates. This way, students who are currently attending can be a part of and oversee this process over time to make sure that the necessary steps are being taken in order to reach the committee or group’s goals.

I have put a significant amount of effort throughout my Gettysburg College career into this issue, and I feel as if it is a glaring hole in not only our athletic program, but our college’s programs as a whole. What is frustrating is that we consistently receive mediocre answers, as well as various means of fending off similar requests that occur whenever we approach the subject with someone who theoretically should care. No one wants to sit down and figure it out, no one wants to try to learn or understand how we could make it happen or better. They just appear apathetic. Instead of looking at improving the club sports program like it is a hassle and a liability, acknowledge the consistently large amount of students who want the programs to be available and improve our college community through it.

At the end of the day, I am a senior and realistically you could ignore my efforts and give enough political jargon to potential Gettysburg community leaders in the future to never allow this to be a real issue again. But I do not think that approaching this scenario that way speaks in any way to what Gettysburg College stands for, and what they try to provide their students. If club sports are nothing else, they are an opportunity for students to make a positive and real difference in our community. Is that not what every student, professor and

administrator should be striving for? Especially our Administrators who are supposed to project our image of the future? Improvement and growth should be never ending goals, not a hassle. These are also student-leadership opportunities that are actively being thwarted by a lack of motivation by the very people who are typically responsible for being proponents of it.

As someone who has run into as many obstacles throughout forming the Club Baseball as I have, I can confidently say that although it has been a pain, I have been part of making a difference at Gettysburg College. The problems we have had to solve have been entirely worth it to see how much people enjoy finally getting back onto the field. Fellow senior Nick Cesare and myself have been looked at in the eye by multiple alumni and current students and told that those nine baseball games that we played last year were some of the most genuinely fun and exciting experiences of their college careers.

 

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