Friday, July 10, 2020

Challenging Times For College Squash

College squash in the US seems has made our sport boom. Thousands of junior squash players from all over the world train and dream for a chance to play on a varsity squash team one day. A lot of big name ex-PSA players are now coaching in the US which helps recruit and train these players which in turn is increasing both the popularity and the caliber of squash.

Because of covid-19 it's difficult to know how next season in the College Squash Association (CSA) is going to shape up. It seems clear that the start of the season is going to be pushed back, but there has been a lot happening since the completion of the 2019/2020 season. A lot of schools have said they are starting with online courses and many international students may not be allowed back in the US for the fall. The US college squash system is changing in many ways at the moment and it could have a major impact on squash as a whole. A few months ago I would have said that the CSA was stronger than ever; the caliber of the athletes, coaches and the sheer number of teams participating was at an all time high. Now in July there is a lot of reason for concern.

I know for a fact that I never would have went to university if I couldn't have played varsity squash. College squash was such an amazing experience which I'm so thankful for. As someone who played at varsity level and is now a coach of a varsity team I'm shocked by the decisions of Brown and Stanford to cancel their squash teams. Squash wasn't the only varsity sport to be cancelled at either program and the schools make it sound like this is a permanent change. Last season Brown finished 12th in the womens, 15th in the mens and Stanford was 6th in the women's. Those are strong results in a super competitive league.

These decisions were made so late that I doubt the squash players at these school will be able to transfer for next season. They have likely already confirmed their residences and have their courses picked; it's really a shame for them as well as the coaches of these programs. It's even worse for the incoming freshmen who were recruited to play on these squash teams and now will not have a chance to live out their childhood dreams. This hits close to home because I know 2 of Stanford's incoming players were top Canadian juniors.

Brown made a statement saying their decision had nothing to do with money or covid. They further claim to continue to support the team with the same amount of funding to play club squash, even though their alumni support will surely diminish without their variety status. On the other hand, Stanford claims to be doing this for economic reasons even though they have a 27 billion endowment fund.

Mark Talbott is the long standing coach and has approximately a 5 million dollar squash endowment fund. Mark and his staff raised all of the money for his teams so it's tough to see his years of hard work crumble. So even though Stanford claims these sports were all cut because of cost, it's obvious that this wasn't true for squash. Apparently squash doesn't fit into the Stanford athletic model. Dartmouth also just announced that they cut some sport teams as well, but thankfully squash was not one of them. Who will be next to fall?

Are there more teams that will suffer a similar fate? Are these decisions purely financial? Does covid play a part or this timing purely coincidental? What will next season look like? How many students will drop out because of this?

Clearly I have more questions than answers. As a squash supporter, alumni and college coach I'm really concerned; we all should be. I'm not only worried about my own job, but about the strength and future of the college squash game. The CSA was driving our sport as much or perhaps even more than the PSA and if it begins to falter I'm worried about the future of our sport. How many coaches will have to find a new career? How many juniors will pick up a new sport or hobby? How many clubs will never reopen? Is squash being exposed because we are not in the Olympics and not officially a part of the NCAA?

Brown reinstated their track and field team because of the public backlash that most of their athletes were black. I doubt race had any part of why Brown cut their track team, yet this was the reason the sport was reinstated. Does squash need more diversity or is this a completely separate topic? Squash is a sport that people from all over the world play, but yet we it was not reinstated. If the Brown squash team had more black players would the school have been pressured to reinstate squash as well? I know it's an uncomfortable question to consider let alone ask, but there appears to be some truth behind this line of thinking.  I have a full sleeve of tattoos, and I know that was not always well received when competing at US schools. Even though I'm caucasian I know for sure I've been stereotyped countless times. Part of the reason I decided to get all of my tattoos is that I wanted people to judge me for who I am, not for who I look like. I know it sounds a bit unsure, but it's true. If you don't like me because I have a tattoo that's on you and no skin off my back. I have to finish his thought by saying that yet I did compare my tattoos to someone being subject to racism, but I know they are 100% not the same thing. I made a choice what to do with my skin while others were born with theirs and nobody should be judged or ridiculed based upon something like that.

Compared to the current pandemic and the issues revolving around racism, squash doesn't isn't too high on the priority list of the state of the world; nor should it be, That being said, squash has been a huge part of my life for 30+ years. College squash was one of the best experiences I've ever had in my life. This is where I made most of my best friends and when I was also the most dedicated and trained the hardest. Nothing beats training and competing alongside a group of friends. I sympathize for everyone that will miss out on a similar experience.

These times are unprecedented so it's impossible to know what's in store for college squash and squash in general. There's been a pile of PSA players retire (which I unfortunately predicted at the start of covid) and now 2 varsity squash programs have been cut. When Brown cut their program I thought it was a 1 off and that college squash would be fine, but after Stanford's announcement this week I'm left with a lot more worry about the future of squash and in particular the CSA.

I don't like writing about negative news on my blog, but this is the world we're living in and the current state of our sport. We have to all stick together and support the clubs and programs to make sure they are still here for us in the future. I know I'm a little biased, but squash really is the best sport on the plant and college squash is the pinnacle for most players. Stanford and Brown may not believe in the importance of variety sport and in squash, but I do!

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