The McGill alpine ski team managed to balance its books this year – no small feat, given that the club has been plagued with chronic under-funding strains.
The 25-member team, also registered as a SSMU club, was obliged to pay off $7,000 of debt to last year’s team captain after she personally funded the team’s skyrocketing expenses – a result of McGill’s 2006 Travel Policy for Varsity Athletes, requiring the team to hire buses to travel.
Ski team treasurer Carter Berton, estimated that weekly buses cost the team $350 to finance their bi-weekly training sessions and weekend competitions, on top of membership expenses, training equipment costs, and race entry fees.
“The frustrating part is that McGill Athletics hurt us with their policy, but they don’t recognize us with the funding we deserve,” Berton said, explaining that club teams are responsible for all their own revenue generation. “We’re a good team and we place well [in competitions], but McGill doesn’t see that and reward us.”
While the team’s fall fundraisers normally subsidize the roughly $700 membership fee, the team was required to raise the membership cost to $1,000 and apply for SSMU funding.
Despite recognition as a McGill varsity team, the alpine team only receives $400 per year from McGill Athletics, due to the tiered structure of funding. Fully-funded tier-one teams, like Redman Football, and partially-funded tier-two teams often receive the bulk of Department of Athletics resources. The alpine ski team is one of 30 tier-three club level teams that receives scant funding from the University, some of which still carry the varsity label.
According to Megan Kidston, this year’s co-captain, this reality makes McGill the only school on the Quebec race circuit not properly funded by its athletic administration.
“We’re trying so hard to be a competitive team, but we keep getting thwarted by McGill Athletics,” said Kidston, explaining that funding expenses distracted the team from working at their sport. “It’s like McGill is holding back their own athletes from competing the best they can.”
Kidston cited cost-saving examples like training with a half-course of ski gates, or commuting daily to ski races rather than staying overnight at weekend meets, because the team couldn’t afford to keep the bus and the driver with them overnight.
While many club-teams experience under-funding, Lisen Moore, Manager of Intercollegiate Athletics, saw the 1990 introduction of tier-three club-level teams as a positive improvement to athletic life at McGill.
“When the club-team option was presented, it was seen as very positive because it provided more opportunity for students at McGill to get involved with intercollegiate athletics,” Moore said, adding that McGill had to make hard choices about where to allocate their athletics funding.
But SSMU VP Clubs & Services Samantha Cook criticized the Athletics allocation structures.
“McGill Athletics priorities mean that they’re putting most of their money where it’s not conducive to giving the most people the most access,” Cook said, pointing out that club members ended up paying out of their pocket to compete. “It’s really upsetting that it’s one more thing [at McGill] facing under-funding, meaning that students who want to engage often can’t.”
SSMU’s Finance Committee has a special bylaw provision for funding tier-three Athletics teams. This year they gave funding to women’s field hockey, men’s and women’s lacrosse teams, women’s squash, McGill tennis, McGill racing, McGill Nordic ski team, McGill varsity figure skating, and the McGill cycling team.
“Some of the tier-three teams have the best records too, better than some of the big name sports,” Cook added.
But many are hopeful that the Intercollegiate Athletic Structural Review due out in April, after an 18-month advisory process featuring town halls, consultations, and opportunities for input from the Varsity Council, will improve the tiered system.
“April will give us better direction to whether people will be back in the same categories, what criteria needs tweaking, and what additional money needs to be allocated,” Moore said.
Berton was hopeful that the alpine team would eventually gain first-tier status, especially as they finished a close second in the Quebec circuit this year.
“This whole issue makes us want to move up in the tier-level, because we’re a good team, and we need more funding so these issues don’t happen again.”