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Wednesday, Dec 6, 2023

Club sports continue to face challenges with funding despite record athletics fundraising this fall

Club sports leaders have reported that despite SAO funding, they continue to struggle with creating financially inclusive organizations.
Club sports leaders have reported that despite SAO funding, they continue to struggle with creating financially inclusive organizations.

This year’s Proud to be a Panther fundraising drive raked in a record-shattering $713,579 from 3,124 different donors, nearly doubling last year’s total of $387,651. Despite this significant total, club sports at Middlebury still reported financial challenges due to restrictions on how student organizations are allocated and allowed to spend their budgets.

Occurring each fall, the Proud To Be a Panther Challenge is the major fundraising opportunity for Middlebury varsity and club sports teams. Thirty five different teams participated in this year’s fundraiser, with the club crew team bringing in the most money at $87,186.

In this year’s fundraiser, 57% of donations came from alumni, 21% from parents of students, 6% from friends, 5% from students and 2% from faculty and staff. 

Fundraisers like Proud to be a Panther are particularly important for club sports teams, as they receive substantially less funding from the college compared to varsity teams. “It’s the biggest fundraising opportunity for club sports. We get donations from alumni and parents and friends of the program,” said Peter Herman ’24, a captain of the crew team.

Middlebury’s club sports teams also rely on funding allocated to them by the Student Activities Office (SAO), according to Annie Delehanty, the assistant director for student organizations and club sports. The student activity fee, which is included in each student’s tuition, is the primary source of funding for all student organizations and clubs on campus, including club sports

The Student Government Association (SGA) Finance Committee allocates a portion of this funding to the SAO, who is then in charge of dividing up the money amongst the club sports teams to meet each team’s budget needs as adequately as possible, according to Delehanty.

Delehanty noted that each club sports team has an operating account as well as a gift account or endowment. The SAO gives money specifically to a team’s operating account, which is meant to cover any expenses necessary to maintain a club’s basic operations, such as registering for and traveling to competitions and purchasing basic equipment.

Money from external fundraising like the Proud to Be a Panther Fundraiser goes into a team’s gift account, which is used by teams to cover extra expenses that their SAO-allotted funding does not cover. These expenses often include the cost of lodging when traveling for competition and the cost of the club's social programming.  

Each spring, club teams submit their budget proposal for the upcoming year with a breakdown of their operational needs. Members of the SAO then meet to review these proposals and work to fairly distribute funding to each of the club sports teams based on the financial needs of the teams in conjunction with the amount of money available to allocate, according to Delehanty.

“We don’t want any barriers to sport, so we try to do everything in our power to fund each team the absolute best we can, but there’s never enough money to fully match every team’s budget proposal,” Delehanty said.

Delehanty explained that SAO divides club sports teams into three tiers. Tier one and tier two teams are teams that do not parallel a varsity sport on campus, whereas tier three consists of teams that do replicate varsity teams. Tier one teams require a paid coach due to danger inherent to practicing the sport while tier two teams do not. Both tier one and tier two teams are allowed to have two nine-week competitive seasons within an academic year, while tier three teams have one competitive season in addition to one recreational season each year. 

In regards to how the tier system affects the amount of money the SAO grants to each club sports team, Delehanty said that tier three teams generally receive less funding due to only having one competitive season, which cuts down their travel and competition expenses. They are also ineligible to participate in the Proud to be a Panther fundraising, she added.  

Lenox Herman ’24.5, captain and former treasurer of women’s club volleyball, a tier three sport, noted the difficulty her club faces in receiving sufficient funding because of this tier system. She said that if the team were allocated more funding, in addition to updating their current equipment and giving her teammates more opportunities to compete by registering for more tournaments, she would aim to remove financial barriers for entry to the club team and have more social and community-building activities. 

“They’ve recently implemented a new rule that students must wear court shoes when playing in the gym. Not everyone has the resources to buy shoes specifically for volleyball, so it would be nice if our school funding could cover these costs. Also, it would be awesome to have funding for socials and other activities because I think that’s a huge part of what it means to be on a team. Sometimes it feels like we only get a restricted version of that within club sports,” Lenox Herman said. 

Delehanty expressed her awareness of some students’ dissatisfaction with the tier system, and shared that she is in the process of helping form a new advisory board to help address the disconnect between club sports teams and the SAO. With the advisory board, each club sports team will send one member of the organization to a monthly meeting to discuss things happening in the club sports community, problems they are facing or things they want to change. 

“We’re going to work together to try to solve all of that, whether that’s financing, whether that’s field space, whether that’s implementing new training. We’re working with teams to continue to rise through the tier system if they want to,” Delehanty said. 

Club teams remain committed to running their sports with as much funding as the college and fundraising drives will allow.

“As a crew team, we put a lot of effort into minimizing financial barriers for entry into the sport, and club sport funding helps make that reality for our team and other teams too, like equestrian and sailing. You can try all these cool things that you might not have a chance to try elsewhere because the school decided it’s worthwhile to put money towards students’ interests.” Peter Herman said. “I think the campus would be a much less interesting place without that.”

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