Some club sports teams struggle to find a home on campus

Some club sports teams aren’t recognized at Chapman if that sport already exists at the varsity level – meaning that some non-varsity clubs are unable to use the Chapman name and logo or use Wilson Field to practice. Photo illustration by Catie Kovelman

After a two-year battle to make men’s club soccer a part of Chapman’s campus, senior public relations and advertising major Tyler Newman said he’s given up.

Despite student efforts to form university-recognized club sports, administrators hold that there isn’t enough demand to allow club and varsity teams of the same sports.

“At this point, it’s easier to do our own thing,” Newman said. “I just want to give students the chance to play soccer.”

For athletes who cannot or do not want to play varsity sports, but prefer a higher level of competition than intramural sports, collegiate club sports can serve as a middle ground. But unlike some universities similar to Chapman, like Redlands University, Loyola Marymount University and California State University, Fullerton, Chapman has a rule against overlapping club and varsity sports, meaning a club sport can’t exist if Chapman already offers the same sport at the varsity level, according to Senior Women’s Administrator Mary Cahill.

Club sports keep students connected to their favorite high school sports, said sophomore health sciences major Lindsay Zumwalt, who is trying to create a women’s club beach volleyball team at Chapman after being told about the overlap rule.

“Having sports is a break from school,” Zumwalt said. “With club (volleyball), you can play once or twice a week and have tournaments, and I think more students would be interested in that.”

But the rule has made the process of starting club sports teams complicated for some students, because those teams are not allowed to associate with Chapman.

Newman said he decided to give up trying to be a Chapman-affiliated club team about a year ago after meeting with Dean of Students Jerry Price.

“Price approved our club team to be an official club within recreation at Chapman – not athletics, but recreation,” Newman said. “All we had to do was write our constitution. And all of a sudden, we were told (by the Dean of Students office) it wasn’t going to happen, and it was a very final answer.”

The club was waiting on permission from the liability insurance department when “it all fell through,” Newman said.

Price confirmed the meeting and said his initial reaction was to support the request, but that it had to be denied after consulting with the departments that would be affected.

Newman co-founded the Orange County Football Club (OCFC) – originally called Chapman Football Club – two years ago. Newman said he and the club’s co-founder, senior kinesiology major Trevor Atchison, had to change the name per the university’s request.

In the fall of his sophomore year, Newman said the two were called into the athletic department to speak with Cahill and Kayla Wiechert, an associate director in the Student Engagement office. Newman said that he and Atchison were told if they continued to use the Chapman name and logo, they would be breaking the Student Conduct Code, which could be grounds for suspension.

Newman originally got permission to use the Chapman logo from the university’s Strategic Marketing and Communications department, according to emails provided to The Panther. Char Williams, the university assistant vice president of partner services and operations, said that someone in the department gave Newman permission to use the Chapman university monogram, which is different from the school’s official logo and has “nothing to do with athletics,” she said. 

But Cahill, who is in charge of overseeing the formation of new club sports, said she had not heard about students being told they could be suspended, and is skeptical that anyone in the athletic department would do so.

Director of Athletics Terry Boesel told The Panther he agreed with Cahill’s statement and declined to comment further.

Wiechert confirmed that she was present at the meeting with Cahill, Newman and Atchison.

“The Student Conduct Code outlines policies related to unrecognized groups, which we referenced, but I did not discuss sanctions (like suspension) outside of a formal conduct process,” she wrote in an email to The Panther.

Now, two years after being founded, the OC Football Club is a collegiate club-level soccer team, according to its website. The team plays in the West Coast Soccer Association against schools like the University of California, San Diego, the University of Southern California, and California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. The men’s team also has a coach licensed by CalSouth, an official soccer association in Southern California, and the women’s team also has a hired coach.

The captain of OC Football Club’s women’s team declined multiple requests for comment.

About 60 men attended tryouts for the men’s club soccer team this semester, Newman said. However, he thinks the club would see even higher numbers if members were allowed to table or market at Chapman.

But since the team is not affiliated with the university, they cannot advertise on campus, Cahill said.

Faculty in the athletic department have multiple reasons for why Chapman doesn’t allow university-affiliated club sports that overlap with varsity sports.

Cahill said the rule is Chapman-specific, and that there hasn’t been a significant increase in interest from students to form club sports teams – even as class sizes have grown. Cahill also said that varsity teams carry large rosters and, if students do want to play at a competitive level, Chapman offers them the option to play at the Division III varsity level.

Sports Information Director Steven Olveda cited additional reasons in an email to The Panther.

“There is the issue of facility space. With no athletic scholarships, we also feel the opportunity is there to pursue playing a sport,” Olveda wrote.

For club sports teams to form at Chapman, a recreational club has to exist for one year so the athletic department can confirm there is real student interest, Cahill said.

Soccer is not the only sport students have shown interest in. Zumwalt and sophomore public relations and advertising major Shauna Sabet wanted to start an indoor club volleyball team last year, but were told they couldn’t due to the varsity sport overlap rule. Instead, they formed a recreational beach volleyball club in the hopes that it can be made an official club sport in the future.

Zumwalt thinks there has been an increase in student interest in volleyball.

“The athletic department is very favorable to (varsity) athletes, and if you’re not an athlete, they don’t care,” Zumwalt said. “The student organizations people are super helpful, but they’re not the club sports people.”

This summer, Newman offered to pay the university to use Wilson Field but was never able to book it, he said.

Newman said the club would benefit from holding tryouts on Wilson Field to accommodate players that don’t have cars. Currently, men’s and women’s club soccer teams rent a field at Orange County Great Park in Irvine to practice once a week. Both teams usually play at the opposing teams’ facilities because the park is expensive to rent.

Starting in early August, Newman exchanged more than a dozen emails with a university event scheduling coordinator to try to rent the field, and was eventually told that the university does not rent the field to students during the academic year, according to email records provided by Newman.

He went so far as to suggest dates in summer of 2018, to which he was told that the university does not schedule that far in advance.

During the fall semester, Wilson Field has 14 to 18 weekly open recreation hours.

Zumwalt also asked the athletic department about hosting indoor volleyball open gyms last year, and said her requests were denied. Still, she hopes that over time, there will be recognition for students who want to play club sports, and that the process becomes easier once they have proven their commitment, she said.

As a senior, Newman said he and Atchison are not actively lobbying for club sports because it hasn’t produced results over the past two years, and it is easier to be independent from the university despite it being more expensive for the players.

To read the sports editor’s take on club sports, click here.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said that unaffiliated soccer teams are not allowed to participate in the university’s open recreation hours. This information has been corrected.


  • Too bad Chapman University doesn’t put student interests first. Undergrads who are entrepreneurial and civic-minded should be celebrated and supported – not demeaned and threatened with expulsion.

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