Women’s Soccer Players Continue Family Tradition

Washington Spirit forward Stephanie Ochs, 22, signs autographs for fans after the game at Ludwig Field.

Washington Spirit forward Stephanie Ochs, 22, signs autographs for fans after the game at Ludwig Field. (Photo by Kayla Faria)

Capital News Service

By Kayla Faria

Two-time collegiate All-American Stephanie Ochs “literally had nothing to do” living in a New York apartmentwhen she was playing soccer in 2012. Now that the U.S. Under-23 Women’s National Team standout from San Diego has found a family in Germantown, there’s always someone around.

Professional athletes are bunking with host families in Maryland and the District. It’s not a study abroad exchange program. It’s the National Women’s Soccer League – the third shot at a professional women’s soccer league, which is set to kickoff on April 13.

Click here to continue reading and see more photos. 

Spotlight on Dean Lucy Dalglish

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Courtesy photo of Shirley Povich Center for Sports Journalism.

The Shirley Povich Center for Sports Journalism

March 2013

By Kayla Faria 

The reputation of a world-class research university, outstanding faculty and proximity to the District brought Dean Lucy Dalglish to the Philip Merrill College of Journalism in 2012, but the big-time college hockey fan with a penchant for risk-taking was intrigued by the Center for Sports Journalism.

“One of the benefits of coming to Maryland was its sports journalism program,” said Dalglish, who served as the Executive Director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and earned the highest honor from the Society of Professional Journalists. “Sports are more than just a game. They’re an industry.”

For Dalglish, the future of the Shirley Povich Center for Sports Journalism is about envisioning this bigger picture.

“There is no question that there is an insatiable demand for sports coverage. I would like to see more students prepared, not only to analyze a game and analyze varying abilities of the athletes and the coaches, but also to be prepared to cover the business of sports because I think society will benefit from it,” she said.

While some sports fans on campus have criticized the university’s transition from the ACC as a transaction that places money over tradition, the restless Dalglish is embracing the change.

Continue reading at http://povichcenter.org/faculty-spotlight/dean-lucy-dalglish/

Are colleges stalking student athletes?

Photo by Kayla Faria

Capital News Service

February 14, 2013

By Kayla Faria

A university that stalks or bans student-athletes’ Facebook and Twitter accounts may be legally out of bounds, sports law experts say.

University athletic departments are following the trend set by professional sports teams to regulate social media. But university officials who ask student-athletes for social media passwords or registered handles to monitor their activity or prohibit them from using social networking sites are violating freedom of speech rights and exposing schools to lawsuits by increasing legal liability, law experts said at a recent sports law symposium.

Read more: http://thedailyrecord.com/2013/02/14/are-colleges-stalking-student-athletes/#ixzz2L4ppOjic

 

While game’s out of town, Baltimore police monitor Super Bowl Sunday

The Baltimore Ravens team emblem is featured on the sidewalk near Baltimore Police headquarters. (Photo by Kayla Faria)

The Baltimore Ravens team emblem is featured on the sidewalk near Baltimore Police headquarters.
(Photo by Kayla Faria)

Capital News Service

February 1, 2013

By Kayla Faria

More than 100 million viewers will be looking at former Super Bowl MVP Ray Lewis playing in New Orleans in his last game this Sunday, but police in Baltimore will be watching Ravens fans back home.

Even though the game is being played out of town, the Baltimore Police Department will deploy Foxtrot helicopters and activate the camera center that displays real-time action on 600 cameras placed throughout the city. It will have more officers in “uniform capacity” monitoring traffic conditions and other police patrolling the streets in regular clothes looking out for “dangerous activity,” including fights and large crowds on Super Bowl Sunday, police said.

Read more: http://thedailyrecord.com/2013/02/01/while-games-out-of-town-baltimore-police-monitor-super-bowl-sunday/#ixzz2L4oybJMC

Social media aids heckling for Maryland Crew

The Povich Times

October 17, 2012

Sporting a red scarf around his neck, Adam “Stripes” Lauer gives “fair warning” to the first row of the student section. He shouts the goalkeeper’s name, and then introduces himself. “My name is Stripes and this is my Crew. Get to know us because we’re going to be all over you for the next 90 minutes!”

The Crew, a group of dedicated fans who passionately support the University of Maryland men’s soccer team from the stands behind the net of opposing goalkeepers, describes its mission as bringing a “European football atmosphere to Ludwig Field with a PG filter.” But the mission of getting inside the goalkeeper’s head starts long before the Terps’ opponents take the field.

The fan base uses social networking sites to research and learn more about opposing goalkeepers, and then incorporates that information into their cheers and jeers.

“Before the games, I’ll go find the goalkeeper [on social networks].  I’ll look up his old MySpace account and I’ll get his phone number – all publicly available information [and] stuff that the goalkeeper doesn’t expect that we’re going to know,” sophomore government and politics major Sam Ward said.

To get in the goalkeeper’s head, the group has created a fake Facebook account, complete with pictures, under the name “Jenny Crewe.” The account’s major and school changes with each opponent as a way to increase the likelihood an opposing goalkeeper will accept a “friend” request from Jenny Crewe.

Engaging with the goalkeeper on Facebook is nothing new for The Crew.

“Back in the day when Facebook allowed you to poke anybody without any regard to if you knew him or not, the Crew would literally poke the goalie to death before games,” former Crew Vice President Joe Capriotti said.

“It is a little creepy,” he said. But “it’s just something that we do to try to agitate them and get in their head before they even get here.” Capriotti said he once found out the license plate number of the vehicle driven by the opposing goalkeeper’s mother.

The Crew has also used Twitter to “aggravate” opposing goalkeepers.

“We live-tweeted the game to the [UMBC] goalie,” junior English major Abby Bjork said. The  tweets consisted of factual statements like “And he goes to the left,” along with “And he goes to the right.”

Once the game starts, the student-run group chants everything from the names of the goalkeeper’s intimate partners to their phone numbers in an effort to make Ludwig one of the toughest college soccer environments in the country.

“When it gets in the heat of games [we] make it as loud as possible and intimidating,” Lauer, the Crew president said. “It’s very hard to communicate, especially on set pieces, when we’re all yelling how many people to be in the wall and we’re telling them to go left or right.”

Lauer said that The Crew has more pro-Maryland chants than it does anti-opponent ones, but it does happen to have a lot of material to use against the other team.

“We have about 12 different supporting Maryland cheers and in between [cheers] we just make fun of the goalie,” he said.

“We look up home addresses. We look up occupations in high school.”

Still, the Crew considers itself to be a well-behaved fan base with a “PG filter” that does not engage in personal attacks or use profanity.

“We know their mom’s name, we know their dad’s name, and we know their girlfriend’s name. But we won’t say anything vulgar about them,” Lauer said. “We make sure we don’t cross the boundaries.”

Crew members understand that they are ambassadors of the university, even though their group is not officially sponsored by it.

“We want people to have fun while they’re out here, but we also want to keep it clean,” said Capriotti, who earned his degree in mechanical engineering in 2011.

Once the self-proclaimed “Will Smith of fan bases” for its clean and witty banter, the Crew continually monitors its behavior during matches.

“We never get out of hand and it’s hard to control. We started to self-police, [but] you’re always going to have kids that show up [who] say they’re part of the Crew. They’ll show up intoxicated and they’ll get kicked out, then the Crew gets a bad name. But in reality, we don’t have control over that,” Lauer said.

Still, Lauer thinks that the athletes at the other end of his taunts shouldn’t be surprised.

“If you’re going to be an athlete going to a D-1 collegiate school,” he continued, “heckling comes with the territory.”

The Crew was founded in 2003 by Michael Mastrantuno, a student who hoped to be a soccer team walk-on but was unsuccessful. It is funded entirely by students. To help raise money for road trips and tailgating, the Crew sells marque soccer scarves for $20 apiece.

Still, the Crew maintains an informal relationship with the university’s marketing department. In the past, the department has provided school T-shirts and occasionally picked up the tab for bus rides to major away games.

Both longtime and newer members of the Crew, however, credit its existence outside of the university as part of the reason for its exponential growth – from a handful of students in the beginning to an estimated 3,500 fans at Friday night games.

“It’s intangible,” Ward said, “being [an] independent group that’s there for the team first and not the athletic department.”

Lauer said that he considers the Crew a “support section” or “fan base” rather than a club, which makes filling out the paperwork, writing a constitution and raising funds for the Student Government Association – steps to become an officially recognized university club, a “little ridiculous.”

“It creates more work than it’s worth,” he said.

For Lauer, school sponsorship would also mean having to be organized, something that is anathema to the Crew’s ethos.

“We’re actually very disorganized,” Lauer said. “Our Facebook integration is about as organized as we get.”

Capriotti, the former vice president, agreed that the group’s disorganization is a strength and a testament to the “beauty” of how it works.

Members of the group once used email chains and a blog, but its online presence now exists primarily as a Facebook fan page that includes all of the group’s cheers, along with road trip information.

However, Brian Klenk, a 2009 alumnus, said that the group’s ability to travel in numbers for road trips has expanded because of an added focus on organizing. “We’ve become a little more organized, which is funny because we’re still not all that organized.”

The Crew considers itself an inclusive group given that joining is as easy as showing up and cheering on the team.

Lauer’s pitch to potential Crew recruits is simple: “You feel much more connected to the team,” he said.

Lauer said that a “sense of intimacy” is what makes the Crew experience unique. “When you’re at the Crew, you are right over the top of the goalie. The players, when they score, do celebrations right in front of us,” he said.

Lauer describes a positive correlation between the team’s continued success and the Crew’s expansion.

“We continue to recruit great players because we have such a great environment. We’ve had recruits come out and sit in the stands with us and been like ‘I absolutely love this,’” he said.

Although many Crew members credit their group’s growth to the quality of the team (the Terps are ranked first in the nation) and popular head coach Sasho Cirovski, others point to their group’s leadership.

“Everyone is drawn towards the personalities that run this,” sophomore Dylan French said. “It’s just people that want to have a good time and want to include everyone else in having a good time.”

While the Crew can be cold to opposing goalkeepers, the trademark scarves worn by its members represent a shared bond, exposing their warm-hearted passion for the game.

“The warm, open welcome that was shown to everyone here [is] what keeps people coming back,” Klenk said. “There’s no cold shoulders.”

Forty years later, Title IX panelists confront myths

Courtesy photo of Shirley Povich Center for Sports Journalism.

Courtesy photo of Shirley Povich Center for Sports Journalism.

Sports Journalism class assignment

October 21, 2012

By Kayla Faria Title IX changed the landscape of sports by increasing female athletic participation more  than tenfold, but myths associated with the 40-year-old legislation were still being tackled on Friday afternoon at Knight Hall.

Moderated by USA Today’s Christine Brennan, the Title IX panel sponsored by the Shirley Povich Center for Sports Journalism featured ESPN broadcaster Bonnie Bernstein, Olympic track hurdler Lacey O’Neal, Nation sports editor Dave Zirin, former University of Maryland basketball coach Chris Weller and Comcast SportsNet basketball analyst Christy Winters Scott.

Requiring schools that receive federal funds to provide female students with equal and proportional opportunities to participate in educational programs, Title IX has historically received misdirected blame for athletics cuts to collegiate men’s sports, panelists explained.

“We can’t blame a great law for the incompetence of athletic departments [that] slash and burn men’s sports,” Brennan said.

“People just assume that when men sports are cut it’s because of the women [and Title IX] – no – it’s because they need money to pay for football and basketball,” Bernstein said. “Universities don’t want to admit this, [but] the predominance of football programs in this country are SIVs, they lose money.”

“To make the athletic department ledgers meet, they have to take general funds from the university [to] balance the budget,” said Bernstein, who earned Academic All-American honors four times as a Terrapin gymnast.

“We can’t view college sports as a situation where we need to rob Peter to pay Paula. It is a situation where there is money [and] there needs to be better management of those funds,” Zirin said.

Zirin emphasized how a lack of “fiscal sanity” in “so-called revenue producing sports that so often actually suck revenue out of other sports” has forced cuts.

“When you’re paying former coaches millions of dollars to sit at home because you want to hire a new, glory coach [or] you’re putting in new luxury boxes because you think it will entice boosters [or] you’re putting hundreds of millions of dollars into stadium refurbishments,” he continued, “that’s when you find yourself in a situation of acute financial crisis.”

While the myth that Title IX forces schools to cut men’s sports has persisted throughout its tenure, the myth that women should not play a sport because they “would hurt themselves” has survived even longer as it was once said that woman could not run long distances because her uterus would fall out. However, a student at the university asked panelists to respond to such an argument in the case of girls playing high school football.

“This getting hurt business has been around and been a rationale to hold women back from the very beginning,” said Weller, who was inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in 2009. “That whole notion that women cannot play contact sports is really a myth.”

Zirin used the example of 5 foot 2 Mamie “Peanut” Johnson, one of the three women to play in the Negro Leagues, to illustrate how little physical attributes are indicative of athletic success as Johnson batted .278 and won more than an 80 percent of the games she pitched.

“Let’s get away from thinking height and weight are determinative in terms of people’s ability to succeed in sports. Often times it’s about mechanics as well as dedication,” he said.

Calling for “more Title IX,” Zirin pointed to how an intersectional approach can be used in analyzing the enforcement of the legislation, given the considerable racial disparities in statistics of female participation in high school sports.

“It’s not enforced enough and in as broad-based as a way,” he said. “Like so many laws in American society, you see those vexing intersections of race and class in terms of how Title IX gets enforced.”

Panelists explained that although the landmark legislation has provided more opportunities and decreased the stigma for girls and women in sports, gender equity in athletics has not yet been realized.

“There is so much more equity for women now than there ever was,” said Bernstein, but “we still need to have these discussions, because [there’s] still a huge disparity.”

Despite a record-setting 200,000 intercollegiate female athletes, only 1 in 5 college teams is coached by a woman and the percentage of women’s teams coached by a female has dropped dramatically since 1972, according to a 35-yearlong study on women in intercollegiate sport released in February.

Although more female head coaches train women’s teams than ever before, less than half of women’s teams are coached by women, while more than 96 percent of men’s teams are coached by men, according to the February study conducted by authors R. Vivian Acosta and Linda Jean Carpenter.

“The question isn’t even raised about why women aren’t interviewed to coach men’s teams [and] that’s a problem in terms of vision,” Zirin said.

For Weller, the gender disparity at management positions, where report statistics show that 20 percent of athletic directors and 10 percent of sports information directors are female, is even more troubling.

“It’s disturbing to me in this day and age that the number of women coaches and women athletic directors is not rising. It is declining,” the 28-year Terps head coach said. “Not that I have anything against men coaches, but I really would like to see the women be more involved in the decision-making positions within athletics.”

The research bears out her concern as applying to an athletic departments without a female administrator significantly decreases the likelihood that a female coach will be hired, according to statistics from the same study.

With a wealth of experience in competitive sports, O’Neal advised women and girls to get involved in these other areas of the sports industry.

“Title IX is just not about the athletics, but if you want to do athletics, think beyond the competition,” said O’Neal, who once aspired to be a sportswriter. “Think about ownership, think about writing, think about commentating, coaching.”

Citing the research of sports sociologists Michael Messner and Cheryl Cookie, Zirin noted that the amount of women’s sports coverage is “dramatically less” than it was 20 years ago.

Bernstein and Zirin disagreed on the reasons for the gender disparity in the amount of coverage today.

“Ratings,” Bernstein argued. “The reason why ESPN beats [Tim] Tebow to death is because as much as people hate hearing about it, they want to talk about it.”

To argue that the audience for women’s sports exists, Zirin recounted the Final Four matchup of Pat Summit’s Lady Vols and the Diana Taurasi-led Connecticut team, the top-rated basketball game in ESPN history as of 2006.

He characterized the ratings argument as a self-perpetuating and “self-fulfilling prophecy” that discounts the impact of media coverage to create “needs among the populous” and shifts the blame completely to an audience of media consumers.

“If I only serve you Coke and Pepsi your entire life, and then try to give you orange juice, you’re going to reject it,” Zirin said. “We’re not even giving consumers the opportunity to actually engage in women’s sports in a way that’s more expansive.”

For Zirin, the way Title IX is framed by media and perceived by consumers will determine its impact in the future.

“We view it too much like a finish line, like something that was passed, instead of something that, not only has to constantly be fought for, but something that has to constantly be enforced,” he said. “Title IX has to be seen as evolutionary- something that we keep fighting for – and that if we want that kind of change, it’s not just going to be handed to us. We’re going to have to fight for it.”

Weller also set out to debunk the myth that Title IX is here to stay without this fight.

“It could be reversed in an instant if you don’t stay on top of it and preach the value of it,” she said.

Sports media writers say industry is “noise”

Courtesy photo of Shirley Povich Center for Sports Journalism.

Courtesy photo of Shirley Povich Center for Sports Journalism.

Sports Journalism class assignment

October 9, 2012

By Kayla Faria

A media critics’ panel that featured sports journalists from ESPN, Sports Illustrated, USA Today and the Washington Post characterized the ever-changing industry as “noise” at the University of Maryland on Monday night.

ESPN Around the Horn panelist Kevin Blackistone, Sports Illustrated reporter Richard Deitsch, USA Today TV sports columnist Michael Hiestand, Washington Post columnist Tracee Hamilton, “Awful Announcing” blog creator Brian Powell, and Diamondback sports editor Connor Letourneau covered topics ranging from sports media personalities to the demands of the 24-hour news cycle and journalistic ethics during the discussion sponsored by the Shirley Povich Center for Sports Journalism at Knight Hall.

“Noise, commentary is a great commodity now. It’s actually one of the great commodities in sports journalism,” said Richard Deitsch, who expressed reservations to the amount of circulating noise that he coined “Bayless-ization” in criticizing the commentary of ESPN First Take personality Skip Bayless.

“He has commoditized the idea of being a contrarian and the ultimate negative contrarian,” Deitsch said of Bayless. “ESPN should be better than that. When you’re the leader in sports, you shouldn’t be putting a con on the audience.”

Although many panelists were critical of Bayless’ commentary on the popular debate show, ESPN’s Kevin Blackistone and moderator George Solomon, who once served as ESPN’s first ombudsman, called the former Dallas Morning News sportswriter a “trailblazer” in the field as one of the “first bloggers” and “free agent sportswriters.”

For Hiestand, sports media personalities like Bayless and SportsNation’s Colin Cowherd are products of the TV network filtered with low-cost talk shows that are the cheapest way to produce content for the channel that has increased its SportsCenter program by 10 hours.

“You’ve created all this space and now you have to fill it,” he said. “It’s not that people are going ‘let’s fill it with quick judgments,’ but you have to fill it with something [so] ‘let’s find something that’s yes or no.’”

Blackistone explained how the yes or no approach was something that dictated his work as a columnist because “everybody wants an opinion immediately.”

“Everybody wants to know: what do you think? Are you for it or are you against it?” he said. “If I couldn’t give a thumbs up or a thumbs down in what I was about to write about, then I’d better find something else.”

Today’s sports journalism coverage reflects an “instant judgment society,” according to Deitsch.

“It’s the world we live in and the pressure that publications and websites have to create opinion, foster opinion and push opinion is immense [because] sports opinion is a really great commodity that you can monetize,” the Sports Illustrated reporter said.

Letourneau, a senior at the university’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism, called the feeling a “silent pressure to get an opinion out there.”

Hamilton, a longtime sports journalist, commented on how the challenges that accompany the expanding role of the modern sports columnist can compete with traditional journalistic principles and editing standards.

“There’s constant noise about everything all the time,” Hamilton said. “There’s so much rush to immediately blog something, then tweet it, then put it on your Facebook page with a link to it.”

“There’s so much emphasis on talking, that there’s not enough emphasis on reporting or thinking.”

According to Hamilton, the focus on speed has resulted in the need to publish more corrections and retractions.

The evolution of the industry was no more apparent during panelists’ remarks than when Solomon recalled the work habits and words of legendary Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Walter Wellesley “Red” Smith.

Smith would “take 10 hours [to] 12 hours to write a single column. And he simply would say, ‘I don’t have the time for the other stuff.’ And he used to say, before he passed away, ‘I don’t know how they do it.’”

Finding herself “in the middle of two generations and being pulled apart,” Hamilton has also refused to conform to newer demands that conflict with her journalistic values.

“They expect [journalists] to comment on things they haven’t read and I wouldn’t do it [because] we ought to be columnizing on things we have time to digest.”

Layoffs and firings at all levels of the traditional newspaper have placed an additional strain on journalists striving to provide fair and accurate content.

“There’s just always cuts, cuts, cuts and yet the pressure is produce, produce, produce. And that’s where your problems are going to come in with making mistakes and putting things out five minutes before you maybe should have,” she said. “That’s where I see strife in the newsroom sometimes. Those things are still pulling at each other.”

Letourneau has already seen this tension in his young career.

“It is becoming so competitive right now that sometimes people can kind of lose sight of their journalistic ethics” he said. “It’s all about getting the scoop and getting it out first and, sometimes, it’s really easy to lose sight of what really matters.”

Powell, who put in 16-hour workdays when he first created his blog, referred to this trend as the “TMZ-ing” of sports news coverage. He focused his criticism in the sports blogosphere to writing with the sole intention of boosting page views.

Some sites are “just trying to get page views and that would be anything from making up stories to objectifying women,” said Powell. “Unfortunately, negativity sells.”

Although Powell said he made a living out of generating negative content, he also had his limits, which included reporting on the marital lives of announcers.

“It no longer became fun; it just became too real life. I would never touch subjects like that,” he said.

Reprisals for questionable content also seem to be diminished on an online platform predicated on page views, according to Hiestand. Driven by search engines, a headline that sounds intriguing, outrageous or unbelievable might lead a news consumer to click on it, only to then discover that the article is interesting, boring or phony, but “it doesn’t matter, you (the consumer) already count. There are no consequences for what the writing is.”

However, Hiestand pointed to how hyping content with little context is not a problem exclusive to online platforms as it extends to the evolution of broadcast and television ratings.

“It moved away from we’re reporting on this game to we’re continuing to keep you on this channel,” he said.

Deitsch may be frustrated with “Bayless-ization” broadcasting, but he acknowledged that its noise volume has perhaps not reached its peak.

“The shouting and the instant judgment will only get greater,” Deitsch forecasted.

Still, Blackistone likely best summed up the state of sports journalism today.

“There are a lot of good things going on, but there’s so much noise, sometimes, it’s hard for it to creep to the top,” Blackistone said.

Maryland men’s rugby will dance at USA Sevens

A version of this article was published in The Black Explosion.

May 9, 2012

By Kayla Faria

The 11th-ranked Maryland men’s rugby club clinched a second consecutive conference title preparing to dance at the 2012 USA Sevens Collegiate Rugby Championship tournament on June 2.

As the largest collegiate rugby event in the country, the third annual sevens championship invitational tournament in Philadelphia will host 16 of the nation’s top rugby programs and air on NBC to raise awareness for the game set to debut in the 2016 Summer Olympics.

“Sevens [is] not like a ground-and-pound game. You can kind of get the ball, dance around, see where the holes are, sling it back and just wait for your opening,” sophomore kinesiology major and scrumhalf John Davis explained. “It’s a lot more open.”

An abbreviated version of the sport that passes back to advance the ball forward is said to level the playing field on a pitch where collegiate club teams battle varsity programs that can offer student scholarships.

“Anybody can win; that’s the nature of seven versus seven rugby,” said tournament director Donal Walsh. “It’s very electric.”

A club team is more likely to win the sevens championship than the 15s national championship because of scholarships a varsity program can award students, according to Pat Clifton, assistant editor at RUGBYMag.com, which ranks rugby teams across the nation.

“Teams need more depth for 15s than sevens” he said, noting competition in the weak Atlantic Coast Rugby League (ACLR) conference, has bolstered the record for Terps’ Rugby.

“I’m excited to see how they’re going to do against teams all over the country, not just the [ACRL] or the East Coast,” said President Hannah Johnstone of the Women’s Rugby Club. “They have huge talent.”

Tanifum eludes the outstretched arm of University of North Carolina inside center Amir Khan to score a try in a home game on April 14. (Photo by Kayla Faria)

Tanifum eludes the outstretched arm of University of North Carolina inside center Amir Khan to score a try in a home game on April 14. (Photo by Kayla Faria)

Terps Rugby will organize sevens practices before naming the squad headed to Philadelphia, but the roster will likely be headlined by Matias Cima and 2012 ACRL Co-Player of the Year Trevor Tanifum.

The 2011 ACRL Co-Player of the Year, Cima, a sophomore kinesiology major and former High School All-American flyhalf, will play on the U.S. Under-20 National Team.

Described by Cima as a “freak athlete” and the fastest player in the league, senior captain Tanifum, a fullback and criminology major, wove in and out of defenses this season to earn 2012 ACRL Co-Player of the Year.

“They have two cream-of-the-crop players in Cima and Tanifum,” Clifton said. Maryland has a “better shot at sevens [than at 15s] because with a few good players, you have a chance to beat anyone.”

“We have individual stars that know how to lead a team [and] take Maryland to win games,” Cima said.

Tanifum expects junior all-conference lock Keith Sneddon, sophomore fullback Karl Rempe, a fifth-year senior scrumhalf Matt Quigley, sophomore center Matt Sarna and Davis to also represent Maryland on the sevens squad.

“It’s a game of speed, so it’s a game for the fast guys,” said head coach Jeff Soeken, a three-time All-American lock at Maryland. “It’s not even fun for fat guys like me to play.”

If the Maryland team has a weakness, it’s size, ACRL Commissioner Patrick Kane said.

“Our team this year is actually one of the smaller teams in the [ACRL], but we realized that in the fall so we told the guys,” Cima continued, “fitness needs to be at really high level [to] make up for your lack of size with some speed and some fitness and some stamina.”

An undersized, speedy Maryland team lacking depth could be better suited for the shorter game, where physical size and numbers are less important, according to Clifton.

“When they step on the field with a [top-notch varsity] team,” Soeken said, “everyone is going to be fast [and] fit as hell, and we’re going to have holes. It’s just how do you hide the holes and the weak players?”

Weaknesses are amplified in sevens with seven-minute halves, Soeken emphasized.

“With a couple of bounces here and there,” Kane said, “it’s easier to pull an upset in sevens than it is in 15s.”

For Tanifum, sevens is about conditioning and accountability.

“Sevens is a lot more fitness work. It’s the same field, same rules [so] each guy has to do that much more work,” said Tanifum, who added the game’s greater mental and physical tests play into the team’s strengths.

Although the club does not face a test in strength of schedule, it can draw strength from testing the level of players’ effort and commitment.

Unlike varsity athletes playing with scholarships, Terps ruggers pay to play while lifting weights and training nearly year-round.

“It’s really a big haul for teams that aren’t well organized money-wise,” Soeken said. “We’re stretched at this point.”

“About a decade ago, Maryland was one of the rugby powerhouses in the east,” Tanifum said of the 45-year-old club. “We’ve fallen dramatically in the last 10 years and we’re just starting to recruit again [and] get some good players, new level of commitment.”

Maryland is right on the cusp of being an elite team again, Kane said. “They can compete with anybody on the field in the sevens event.”

The program’s progressive nature, university brand, quality of rugby play, and ability to bring fans were factors considered in Maryland’s invitation to the sevens tournament that expects a 20 percent increase in attendance with 15,000 on its opening day, Walsh said.

“It’s going to be a big privilege to play in [the sevens] tournament,” Cima said, “[because] we’re representing Maryland in a big way.”

Collegiate Rugby Championship sells average sports fan

Enterprise story for News Writing and Reporting class 

By Kayla Faria

U.S. Under-20 National Team player and former High School All-American Matias Cima isn’t playing at the University of Maryland with a full or partial scholarship. Cima is paying to play because his game is rugby.

The sport with an oval ball passed back to advance forward is played on more than 1,000 college campuses, but is not sanctioned by the NCAA as a men’s varsity intercollegiate sport. Classified primarily as a club sport, rugby does not offer full club scholarships, with less than 20 universities providing scholarships to varsity rugby players in the United States, according to USA Rugby, the sport’s national governing body.

To compete as a member of the university’s Terrapins Rugby Football Club, Cima, who was named the 2011 Atlantic Coast Rugby League “Co-Player of the Year” as a college freshman, must shell out $80 in club dues and register with the nation’s governing body, paying a $40 individual registration fee.

The individual membership fee covers rent and payroll for the national office, support for national teams, hosting coach and referee courses and staging national playoffs, according to RUGBYMag.com. Members of USA Rugby are insured for accidents that happen at sanctioned rugby events after the $1,000 deductible and can also receive discounts between 5 and 10 percent at Sports Authority, World Rugby Shop, and Enterprise Rent-A-Car, according to the USA Rugby website.

Boasting 32,842 individual college members, USA Rugby generates more than $1,000,000 from individual college membership registration fees. With 511 male college clubs registered in the 2010 season, college rugby represents the largest section of USA Rugby membership, according to its website.

As the largest collegiate rugby event in the country, the third annual USA Sevens Collegiate Rugby Championship in Philadelphia will host 16 of the nation’s top rugby programs, airing on NBC networks to raise awareness for the abbreviated version of the game that is set to debut in the 2016 Summer Olympics.

Featuring “sexy” matchups, the sevens invitational tournament is more marketable than the USA Rugby National Championship Series because it appeals to the average collegiate sports fan “flipping around on TV and stopping [to watch because] they recognize the teams and the rivalries,” Atlantic Coast Rugby League Commissioner Patrick Kane said.

“Run by a private, for-profit company [in] USA Sevens, [with] substantial financial backing and a relationship with NBC, [the tournament has] a dual purpose of growing the sport and appealing to the non-rugby fan, just the lay sports fan,” Kane continued, “so they (USA Sevens) are willing to throw a lot of money behind bringing big-name universities to the event and sponsors are willing to hop on board.”

Sponsored by Subway, GoDaddy.com, Foster’s, and Motel 6, the 2012 tournament expects a “20 percent increase in attendance with 15,000 for [June 2 on] opening day,” tournament director Donal Walsh said.

With the $33 price of a general admission ticket, the tournament could secure nearly $500,000 on its first day, according to Walsh’s projections.

The club’s ability to bring in fans, university brand, progressive nature, and quality of rugby play were factors considered in Maryland’s invitation to the tournament, Walsh said.

“College rugby [has] value in it, but that value is untapped,” writes Pat Clifton, an assistant editor at RUGBYMag.com, who pointed to the sevens tournament as a way to “tap” into rugby’s value. “We as a rugby community long for varsity status.”

“Teams struggle to get funding. They struggle to get fields on campus. They struggle to be able to use their school’s official mascot and the team name which hurts in recruiting,” Clifton said.

Paying to play, the Maryland club would have faced serious financial challenges, including nearly $6,000 in costs for hotels and transportation, if it had advanced further in the official national championship, said head coach Jeff Soeken, a three-time All-American lock at the university.

“It’s really a big haul for teams that aren’t well organized money-wise [and] we’re stretched at this point,” Soeken said. “It would be a question whether the guys would have to kick something in and if they would be willing to do that, then we can succeed.”

For the Maryland team and other club programs with a tight budget, the opposition is not the only barrier to securing a championship title.

“A non-varsity program has a much more difficult road to winning a national championship than a program that has varsity status, but right now we have very few schools that are willing to give rugby varsity status,” Kane noted.

Varsity status would mean more university recognition and funding for player scholarships, equipment, medical access, playing facilities and locker rooms, but it would come at a price.

According to USA Rugby, athletes would be officially limited in their training hours, required to attend academic study hall, attend daily practices, and be held to an academic eligibility standard set by the NCAA Clearinghouse. The responsibility of scheduling matches, finding facilities and arranging transportation to travel as a team would shift from students to the school’s athletic department.

Still, Clifton maintained the sport is mostly hurt by not being elevated to varsity status.

“There are teams that turn down bids to national championships because they don’t have the money to [travel and] do it,” Clifton said. “It’s kind of a silent problem outside the rugby community.”

Although the cash-strapped team struggles with campus recognition and visibility, University of Maryland Knoxville, TN for the 2012 USA Rugby National Playoffs.Knoxville, TN for the 2012 USA Rugby National Playoffs.players will sport the school’s insignia across their chests in the national spotlight of the sevens tournament.

“It’s going to be a big privilege to play in this (sevens) tournament. It being aired on TV, we’re representing Maryland in a big way,” Cima said.

Representing a brand without access to the revenue it produces has come to define the amateur athlete.

Outlined by the NCAA, a “Principle of Amateurism” is important because student-athletes should be protected from exploitation by professional and commercial enterprise, according to an article in Sports Illustrated that cites the association’s manual.

The NCAA is heavily criticized for “exploiting” college athletes whom help produce the massive revenue accumulated from the sport, particularly in reference to the March Madness basketball tournament.

“These ‘amateurs’ are playing in a tournament [with] a $6 billion television contract [and] the NCAA then owns their image in perpetuity, selling it for use in video games, advertisements and other assorted merchandise. Everyone gets paid except for them,” wrote sports columnist Dave Zirin in a 2010 article for The Nation.

Despite not being sanctioned by the NCAA, rugby, a “true amateur sport,” has reached new levels of commercialization with the economic growth of the USA Sevens Collegiate Rugby Championship, according to Clifton.

“The money has infiltrated it the way it [has] infiltrated the other big-money sports in college athletics and really money has kind of dirtied up a lot of sports,” he said. “Money has changed the way sport is played.”

When asked about the message that is sent when rugby players pay to represent the university on a nationally-televised scale, Clifton summarized the paradox.

“For rugby, it should be a point of pride that you’re doing this for the love of the game and for the pride of the university [but] on the other hand, it does kind of suck obviously.”