Women's crew hopes to reap huge benefits from plan
In Focus Writer
With one all-encompassing plan to fully fund all varsity sports, Notre Dame has given the women's rowing program a big boost on its way to becoming competitive in the national arena.
Athletic director Kevin White, proposed the plan, with women's rowing the single biggest beneficiary, on Dec. 21.
Head coach Martin Stone is excited to have the ability to take his team to a higher level.
"It's very exciting for our program to now have the opportunity to go out and recruit on equal footing," Stone said. "The scholarships the University is granting us will allow us to be more competitive than we already are."
A team struggling to attract talented athletes without the incentive of aid money, the women's rowing program has gone from having no allotted scholarships to having the maximum 20 allowed by the NCAA.
Added gradually over the next four years, the funding will put the program on par with some of the most competitive schools in the nation.
"The team was very excited with the news," team captain Claire Bula said. "It's a great opportunity to be given and it will help in recruiting and keeping good rowers. It will make the team more competitive and able to go up against some of the best teams across the country."
The increase in athletic aid is a much-needed boon to a program which often must compete with academically impressive schools for the most talented rowers.
Other programs at Notre Dame previously not fully-funded have traditionally enjoyed the upper hand when it comes to academics, but rowing has not.
Most of the country's rowing powers hail from institutions which place a great deal of importance on academic excellence, causing Notre Dame to have to compete with the likes of Duke and Princeton for athletes.
"Without scholarships, it is very challenging to recruit rowers because schools that our academic peers are also good in rowing," Stone said. "They have great programs. So trying to convince a very smart, bright woman rower to come to Notre Dame and pay about $30,000 when they could go to a comparable school for less or even nothing is a hard task."
That task just became a lot easier.
With only about 10 recruited athletes possessing previous rowing experience, currently the program must rely on filling its roster with inexperienced Notre Dame students.
While the on-site recruiting will still play a large role in creating the novice program, Notre Dame's dramatically improved ability to recruit at the high school level will be pivotal to strengthening the varsity squad.
"It will make a significant difference for the team since most schools and the Big 10 schools have gone varsity and are providing scholarships to their rowers," varsity rower Maureen Carr said. "Our recruiting will become a lot more effective."
The effectiveness of the scholarship money will have dual results.
"The benefits will be two-fold," Stone said. "We will get some of those kids who are heavily recruited, while our competitor schools won't. We will be even and will be able to recruit in a whole new way."
That whole new way of recruiting will change not only the level of competition between Notre Dame and its adversaries, but will also the level of competition within the team. Irish rowers will no longer just be competing as a team against other teams, but as individuals trying to earn one of several available scholarships.
"It will probably increase the competition among people on the team," Carr said. "But I don't foresee it as a problem necessarily. Although I think it will be a hard transition."
Just how that transition will work is still unclear. The logistics of allotting scholarships has yet to be worked out by Stone and his staff.
"We're not sure [how the scholarships will be distributed]," Stone said. "What we're doing now is we are in the process of recruiting people. And then we'll see and determine within the team how to allocate the money. It seems simple, but it's really a complex process. We're limited to 20 scholarships. If someone is already receiving aid from the University, say $20,000 and we want to give them a $500 grant, then it becomes a $20,500 athletic scholarship and if we're not careful in that way we could go over out limit."
While Stone grapples with the problem of scholarship distribution, Notre Dame men's rowing team is still dealing with the frustration of not only no scholarships, but no varsity status.
And while their female counterparts are enjoying the perks of varsity status, the men are not as lucky.
"While we're not varsity and only a club, we're trying to build a program that is just as strong and competitive," club captain Sam Wang said. "That's one of the things we pride ourselves on — the fact that we practice just as much as the women's program. Plus we have to do all our own fundraising. Rowing is an expensive sport, so if we're not practicing we're trying to raise money."
The disparity the men's and women's programs is not unique to the Notre Dame campus; it is a continuing trend across the country.
With the advent of Title IX, which requires roughly equal funding for men's and women's athletics, schools have used women's rowing as a balancer to fall into compliance.
And while Title IX has been lauded for its results in improving athletics for women, Wang and his teammates have felt its affects in a different way.
"If you look around the country, a lot of men's programs are in the same situation," Wang said. "With Title IX, women's programs are being built up quickly because school's football programs are so big. I think its good to see women's sports advance, but when you're on the other end and see all their equipment they're given and then we have to raise our own money, you feel that effect. [Title IX] is really important but it might need some modification."
Using women's rowing as a way to balance larger men's sports is becoming more popular. Currently, the Big Ten, a conference known for strong football programs, is working to increase its rowing programs. Six schools — University of Michigan, Michigan State University, Ohio State University, University of Iowa, Indiana University and University of Wisconsin — have fully funded programs and University of Minnesota is developing its program for the coming season.
Women's crew is now the 25th sport in which the Big Ten competes. Thirteen of those 25 are women's sports.
Back at Notre Dame, which, like most of its Midwestern counterparts lacks a men's varsity crew team, the male rowers are encouraged by the boon to the sport.
"It's great for them," Wang said. "I think whenever one of the teams finds success it's a good thing."
The funding of 20 scholarships for the women's program will go a long way in helping the program find that long-term success.
All News Stories for Wednesday, January 31, 2001