By Kevin Klipstein, US Squash President & CEO
With Yale University winning its first men’s title since 1990, along with Harvard women’s successful defense of their crown, the Collegiate Squash Association (CSA) National Team Championships hosted in New Haven, CT this past weekend should have been the capstone to a triumphant season, one that celebrated record participation and a dazzling rise in the level of play. It was, instead, overshadowed by numerous disconcerting displays of unsportsmanlike conduct have raised questions about the future direction of the college game leading into the CSA Individual Championships taking place this weekend at Chelsea Piers in Stamford, CT.
US Squash firmly believes squash provides the best environment for learning and practicing virtues of good moral and performance character. Integrity, honesty, accountability, fairness and respect are lifetime values taught through athletics, and these are also the principles of good sportsmanship. In squash, being respectful of your opponent and the officials, courteous on and off the court and responsible for your own behavior are the fundamentals of competing in a sportsmanlike manner. Squash is unique in racquet sports in that the rules require opponents to provide each other unfettered, fair access to the ball, creating a situation where the difference between winning and losing fairly, is actually in the hands of the competitors.
Currently CSA uses US Squash in a management capacity, rather than in a governing role. The men’s and women’s college association boards, made up exclusively of varsity college coaches, determine the policies and guidelines around how the sport is governed at the varsity collegiate level. US Squash provides its technology infrastructure, runs the college championships, and processes CSA’s finances and has done so for several years.
Given that nearly half the court capacity for squash in the U.S. is at colleges and universities, US Squash has a deep and vested interest in the continued success of collegiate varsity squash. The optimal utilization of these facilities is also clearly in the best interest of the sport overall. Addressing the evident challenges including governance, varsity-club relationships, officiating and sportsmanship will be essential to the development of the sport. Concerns about the scheduling, integrity of lineups, the low level of policing and enforcement of the rules and regulations, and a confusing maze of compliance with eligibility regulations across divisions and leagues, are all lingering too.
To CSA’s credit, both the men’s and women’s boards recognize the issues facing college squash and appear willing to seek outside help to move the college game and sport forward. College coaches have done yeoman’s work in not only recruiting, training, coaching and supporting their student-athletes, but also actually governing themselves with little outside support. Evidence of this is in the quick action taken in response to the highest profile incident that occurred this weekend. College coaches as a community have also embraced club teams, and to the extent possible, integrated these teams, which are now more numerous than varsity programs, into the competitive structure. However, the continued growth of college squash, and the increased level of competition, driven by the surge in junior participation in the U.S. and international recruiting, has raised the stakes beyond what the current college structure is able to accommodate.
Varsity squash needs infrastructure, as well as legitimacy in the form of professional relationships and explicit processes to interact with college sports administrators. Club teams need a support structure in and of itself and a coherent way to coexist with varsity programs. Emerging teams need encouragement and support. Squash activity at the intramural level has the potential to expose thousands to the sport who may play for a lifetime.
Martin Heath, the current president of the Men’s College Squash Association, and coincidentally the head coach of the University of Rochester team, finalists in last weekend’s contest, said this about the weekend, “Making the team result dependent on behavior and the coaches more responsible for parents and player behavior may be our only way of controlling.” US Squash already has a Parent, Coach and Attendee Code of Conduct.
“The larger issue is that we are effectively a coach-run organization, ” Heath continued. “And any potential transgressions of the rules are not dealt with in a completely objective manner, as we are all compatriots as well as competitors, and it’s difficult to adjudicate effectively on recruiting, behavioral and refereeing issues against our compatriots. Unintentionally, it becomes political. We need to be run by a larger organization that can apply a strict and objective code, and have serious incentives/penalties for transgressions. This is goal No.1 for CSA, and hopefully we manage to solve this in time for next season.”
Women’s College Squash Association president and George Washington University head coach Wendy Lawrence added, “Any movement towards better sportsmanship, and policing by coaches, is welcome and certainly appropriate. Many coaches are making great efforts on their own, and setting excellent examples. I’m all in favor of more training and education, and it can work, we will all benefit as a result.”
With so many of those in the U.S. squash community having competed in squash at college, there is a large base of interested and willing supporters to strengthen all that college squash is now and could become. Bringing together a group of sports administrators, in and out of the collegiate environment, to consider long term goals for college squash, and how they may be accomplished collaboratively will be an important next step towards resolving current issues and turning the potential liability that collegiate competition could become, into what it should be, one of our sport’s greatest assets.