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Clash of Comments: Does the college sport system hold University teams back?

York Sport Union President Zac Sheppard and Chay Quinn disagree on the impact of York's college sport system

Clash of Comments

"Does the college sport system hold University teams back?"

Image: York Sport Union

NO - Zac Sheppard SU

IN SHORT, ABSOLUTELY not. A university should offer a range of sporting opportunities that give as many students as possible the chance to participate at the level they want. The college sport system is thriving but that’s only a good thing for sport at York.

A lot is made about the clash between university and college sport but in reality, it’s only a small group of students that are choosing directly between the two. Those who come to York looking to test themselves at the highest level will naturally go to the university teams. Our University first teams play at a level higher than the college sport system and allow players to test themselves against the best in the region, or even country.

In a lot of sports in the college system, University players, mainly those below the first team, also take part for their college. Examples of these are hockey, football and squash, to name a few. These sports give those students the opportunity to play more competitive matches against varied opponents, improving their ability and consequently performance. It also helps develop those not in the University teams, as they are playing against a higher level of opponent, which can either just improve their sport experience or help them make the step to university teams if that’s their aim.

The college sport system also provides an opportunity for students to play competitive sport who either don’t want to or aren’t able to train and travel each week. The best example for this is netball, where we have three University teams and over 20 college teams. The netball club train three times a week and have a strength and conditioning session in the gym, meaning there are four sessions a week where attendance is required. Then add a match every Wednesday, which half the time is away, shows that University sport can be a big commitment. For some people this is fantastic, they have the time and love to play their sport this much. For others it’s not, they may have a busier course, or simply may not want to play that often. So, a college team who typically train one evening and play one match on campus at the weekend is a much better fit. If we want to keep as many students active and involved in their sport as possible, we need to offer competitions suitable for both.

Similarly, in rugby, there is the opportunity for students to choose their level. The difference in rugby is that the physical nature of the sport means playing two games a week is tough, leading to most students choosing between University or college. This has led to a bit more com-petition for players between the clubs. However, it’s great for a student wanting to play rugby as they can find the level they want. There’s no doubt that the great rivalry and competition in college rugby makes it attractive, especially for those below the Uni first team, which in all honesty probably led to the University third team withdrawing from BUCS this year.

Conversely, if we disbanded college rug-by or netball, we could have five or six BUCS teams in each sport for sure, the player base is there. But why would we do this? As a student, would you rather your only competitive opportunity to be travelling an hour to play Sheffield 8s in a BUCS match in the bot-tom division, or playing with your mates from your block against another college right here on campus? Plus, all the feedback I’ve had from both current students and prospective ones at open days suggests that having that choice is a great thing. I also think it’s worth mentioning how University clubs can help to develop college sports. The primary example this year has been women’s football, where through the University club making time and coaching available to those not in University teams, the sport has grown hugely. We now have lots more students playing in college teams who may never have played the game before, meaning there’s a bigger pool of talent developing at York. This will grow the college league and improve the University teams.

What may be confusing is across all the different college sports there isn’t a standard relationship between college and university teams. However, it’s not holding the University teams back. Take a look at Durham University, our college varsity opponents, who have more college sport teams than we do but are also second in the overall BUCS rankings.

If we wanted to go up the BUCS rankings we don’t need to get rid of college sport, we would really need investment from the University into sport, through improving and subsidising facilities, hiring full-time coaches as well as greater funding for scholarships.

However, for me, sport is an essential part of every student’s life and it’s far more important that we support all levels of sport and give everyone the opportunity to be active at a level they choose, rather than purely chasing elite status.


YES - Chay Quinn

I SAW SOMETHING ON Twitter recently where the college sport system was summed up quite eloquently. The post mentioned the system’s unique ability to get disengaged students together on a muddy pitch drinking Dark Fruits.

Both as a supporter and a player, the college sport system is a wonderful thing for me. As someone with all the athletic ability of a sloth on ketamine, playing for a University team is far and away out of my grasp. My knees are fucked, my lungs don’t work and I run a little bit like a duck. It is rare to find such wide-ranging and accessible sports systems that still retain a competitive element.

It is a tremendous thing for the entire University, as it enables a population that is growing in its dis-engagement a rare chance to form a sense of shared identity; the community that characterised university life before these communities ate themselves with rapidly growing student numbers. But is the collegiate sports system good for University sides? I think not. But that doesn’t necessarily need to be a bad thing.

My view on the issue is that, of course, the two competing sport systems steal crucial resources: funding and players from each other. But if one’s got to take a back seat, it should be the yellow jacketed groups that play BUCS.

The conflict that arises from those who play BUCS and college sport is the same afflication which has tormented internationally-capped footballers for years: each team will want the player to take it easy when not playing for their side. But the fact of the matter is that a large number of BUCS players also play socially for their colleges. This runs a risk of injury.

The intensity of the games may be less, but almost doubling the number of minutes they spend on the field will inevitably result in players being unavailable for their BUCS fixtures, thereby narrowing the pool of players available and damaging their sides’ chance of progression to a higher level in both systems.

For years, the Sport President’s aim has been to reach the BUCS top-35 and with a relatively small budget to do so, the numerous small improvements needed on a University-wide scale and the ruthless attitude needed to reach this goal are jeopardised if the best of the University’s players are being reckless and playing in what are far less consequential fixtures.

Players are not the only resource the two systems are in competition for: the budget is naturally stretched by the existence of two competing systems and I wonder how many sport scholars York could entice if the college sport system, which I’m certain is run at a net loss to the York Sport Union, ceased to exist. I also wonder how much more college sport could achieve in terms of sowing the seeds of community and pride with extra money pushed its way: maybe we would finally get a working stats app!

I’ve gushed about the positives of college sport in this article so far. But it isn’t perfect. College sport in the last few years has seen a minority of teams using social media in a way that is unbecoming.

Despite being a minority, tasteless jokes, photographs and posts that glorify toxic drinking culture and genuine animosity between teams that border upon abuse tarnish the view of sport at York as a whole. While the discerning student might be able to separate college from University sport and judge accordingly, a general member of the public would see the two as one homogenous mass.

This public image of York’s sport being damaged not only does the same to the image of the University, but also diminishes the prospects of securing the kind of sponsorship which can serve as a new lifeblood of sport in York.

When we are trying to make up ground on universities that have greater amounts of funding than the University of York, sponsorship is crucial. But why would a large company want to support a University whose sports sides are most prominently known for showcasing a fresher’s vomit artfully captured on the floor of a Junior Common Room?

College sport symbolises a part of our University that makes us unique and fosters a community feeling that has dissipated in recent years. I will concede that playing college sport can serve as a conveyor into the more elite sides. But the continued coexistence of these two competing systems means they will eat away at each other’s players and, one way or another, one will eventually win.

I hope the modest yet notable contributions that BUCS makes doesn’t eclipse the community that college sport creates.

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