By Heather Kuch
Out of eligibility—those three words seem like the end of the world for any college athlete with a passion for their sport. You’ve exhausted all four years of eligibility you have been given, and your time competing at the varsity level has come to an end.
This is the situation I was in as I rounded out my volleyball career at Ohio Wesleyan. I couldn’t imagine being done with competitive volleyball after devoting 15 years of my life to the sport. So my fellow seniors and I had planned to form a team to compete in the spring intramural volleyball competitions. It seemed like the best way for us to continue to play the sport we loved at a competitive level, which is why you can imagine my shock when I was told that as varsity athletes we were “ineligible to play intramural volleyball.”
Ineligible to play intramural volleyball—it’s a funny thing to hear when you have been told that club sports are open to anyone of any experience level. After hearing this I began to dig into the Ohio Wesleyan bylaws, which regulate intramural sports and, sure enough, there it was: “no varsity volleyball players are eligible to participate.” When I asked if this included seniors who are now off of the roster, I was told that “if you were on the roster for the first match of the season, you are ineligible to play.”
The logic behind these words? I can only assume that it is meant to stop any team from having an unfair advantage by stacking its roster with varsity athletes. I suppose that would make sense if there weren’t so many exceptions to the rule.
I know of five former varsity volleyball players who quit the team after their freshman or sophomore seasons that have played on intramural teams. I can also name several female intramural participants who had offers to play at the collegiate level but decided not to pursue those offers. Finally, I know of many male members of intramural teams who had significant volleyball experience before they came to college, and who would play at the varsity level if it were offered.
It’s hard for me to see how three varsity athletes would create an unfair advantage with such talent distributed throughout all of the teams. It is exactly the same in the other intramural sports as well. I played softball all four years of high school, and when I attended Heidelberg University my freshman year, I was on the varsity softball team. However, I am still allowed to participate on the intramural softball team because I am no longer a varsity softball player, even though I may be at that level of competition. It just doesn’t make sense.
I have even talked to some of my friends who played varsity volleyball at other universities and then moved on to intramural volleyball once their season ended. Some of these people even played at the Division I level and they were surprised to find out that Ohio Wesleyan does not allow its varsity athletes to participate in their sport in intramurals. Similarly, when I attended Heidelberg, I was told that I could play for the intramural team every spring, even while I was still on the roster.
The intramural bylaws at Ohio Wesleyan are not the standard, and in my opinion, they do not make sense. I understand not allowing varsity athletes to participate in any intramural when they are in season because it would be an injury risk and would overexert them.
The only reason for banning the varsity athletes from their sports is to prevent this “unfair advantage,” which is negated by the fact there are many non-varsity athletes who are at the same level of competition as those on the varsity rosters.
My suggestion is a compromise. If there is truly a problem of varsity athletes stacking a team, then put a limit on how many varsity players can play for each team, but don’t stop us from participating in what could be our last chance to competitively play the sport we love.