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silvercross
-28th April 2008, 17:25
Kind of carrying on from a discussion recently had in the 'Best Unis for Fencing' thread, and some points brought up by some forum members on the 'European Qualifiers for Beijing' thread comes this question for open discussion:

Should universities in the UK emulate their American counterparts and invest more in athletics so as to become vehicles in the delivery of top-class training for our elite athletes?

Everyone knows Oxbridge and Loughborough are at the top of the game in this respect, but do other universities stand a chance?

Should we even care? Are universities the place to do this?

Swords Crossed
-28th April 2008, 17:48
I would argue that unis are the ideal place to train our elite athletes. Yes, I would be the first to point out that the primary reason anyone goes (or should go, in any case), to Uni is to study, learn and achieve that First Class Degree. But its not the only reason.
Going to uni is just as much about the 'experience'. You have so many opportunities at uni that will never come again. Starting a sport and having a flexible enough schedule that you can train 3, 4, or 5 times a week, with more opportunities to compete on an individual and team basis, is just one of them. For those athletes who are 'more than just beginners', so to speak, its a god sent opportunity. With such time on their hands, an investment from the Universities can work wonders. It's good for the Unis, too. With the right incentives and support you can attract some very high quality applicants (both in academic and athletic terms), and they get to pick and choose.
Finally, lets face it, the education you get in addition to sports can be handy too. There is a reason why we have so few professional fencers and other 'minority' sportsmen. A career ending injury and an alternative career path could come in handy.
OK, rant over.

Dalesman
-28th April 2008, 20:40
Some people have a choice, go to Uni or follow the dream.

Only a very few reach the top, so do you risk the rest of your life?

Some of the top Uni's offer both, Northumbia has a very good fencing team and they are supported, others don't, in fact discourage it as a distractuion.

They miss the point you can do both, Jamie Kenbar at Oxford and many others do and could be used to attract top students.

Another fencer
-29th April 2008, 07:11
The main point is that (almost all) universities dont have the money to spend on sport. It isnt seen as a way of gaining reputation and academics are totally opposed in many cases to sports participation.

Oxbridge doesnt spend money on sport. The facilities at both are crumbling relative to a lot of other places (UEA, Notts, Sheffield, Lufbra). What it does have are a couple of very successful sports - rugby &rowing that make their own money through sponsorship - but even rugby doesnt match the US moneymakers of basketball and American Football.

In fencing, Oxbridge are consistently strong, but it isnt down to support from the university - and the Americans who come over here are shocked by the lack of support. We pay for our kit, we pay for our lessons. Go to a top 10 US fencing program and on the squad they pay for everything including lessons. They PAY (scholarship) top internationals to come and fence for their university. Not even Northumbria does that.

Dalesman
-29th April 2008, 07:53
The main point is that (almost all) universities dont have the money to spend on sport. It isnt seen as a way of gaining reputation and academics are totally opposed in many cases to sports participation.

Oxbridge doesnt spend money on sport. The facilities at both are crumbling relative to a lot of other places (UEA, Notts, Sheffield, Lufbra). What it does have are a couple of very successful sports - rugby &rowing that make their own money through sponsorship - but even rugby doesnt match the US moneymakers of basketball and American Football.

In fencing, Oxbridge are consistently strong, but it isnt down to support from the university - and the Americans who come over here are shocked by the lack of support. We pay for our kit, we pay for our lessons. Go to a top 10 US fencing program and on the squad they pay for everything including lessons. They PAY (scholarship) top internationals to come and fence for their university. Not even Northumbria does that.

This just adds to what I was saying, that some of the top fencers or potential top fencers have brains and chose to go to a top Uni even though the facilities are not the best. I bet they still have a good time and train hard as well, but how much better would they do if they had some real support.

A lot of people assume that Oxbridge students come from well off families, but anyone in the know that that is not often the case, and the cost can be crippling to the parents or the student loan.

silvercross
-29th April 2008, 08:56
Would it be a recommendation to our young athletes to follow the LBW example, and use their talents to obtain a scholarship to a university in the US, where they might then receive both a solid education and top level training?

LBW isn't the only example of european fencers who have crossed the Atlantic to benefit her fencing prospects (Soibhan Byrne is one of 5 european fencers currently at Ohios State, for example), so it stands to reason that this might be an alternative for fencers who might just be outside the pathways programme to get the necessary training (provided they also meet the entry requirements for the US university).

In terms of the ability to run a similar programme here in the UK, consider the costs behind it (and these are only for fencing. Imagine if other sports within an Athletic Union also ask for similar requests):

-1 fully qualified, full-time coach: 30,000.00pa (on the cheap)
-1 Assistant coach: 20,000.00pa (again, on the cheap)
-12 Full tuition Scholarships (assuming you run two nine-fencer squads per gender, and you give three scholarships per squad): 10,000.00 each (average, might be higher depending on course student is enrolled in, whether or not it is an undergraduate or postgraduate course, etc.) for a total of 120,000.00pa
-Travel costs for BUSA matches and BUSA Individuals: ~5,000.00pa (and that's being frugal)
-Annual equipment maintainance costs (assume the assistant coach also doubles as armourer): ~5,000.00pa (again, modest estimate).
-Admin fees: ~12,000.00pa
-Miscellaneous: ~10,000.00

The average 'hypothetical' annual budget for any UK university fencing club would run in the region of 202,000.00.

cesh_fencing
-29th April 2008, 09:44
I feel the Bath Uni set up for Pentathlon is probably the structure that fencing would need to go for with only 1 or 2 top level Uni centres (1 north, one south). It is not economically viable to have lots of Unis employing top level coaches on a full time basis (and there are not enough around anyway).

I understand that the MPAGB in conjunction with the University and funding bodies agreed that the Uni would be the Pentathlon Centre of excellence in the UK and all the groups worked together (and threw money at it) to create the one University in the country where pretty much all the top Pentathletes go (and it has a pretty good range of courses as a Uni as well) and even after Uni stay around to train at the facilities.

BF I am sure will have looked into this, but unlike Pentathlon who have been regular Olympic medal winners, fencing as a sport in the UK has not the reputation as Olympic medal winners for a University to think of as a blue ribbon sport which they will get much kudos from. Therefore they will probably not be inclined to throw much money at it and BF probably could not afford to pay for the set up and the funding bodies are probably just looking to push for 2012 success not on such a long term commitment.

Should the Uni structure support out top athletes more? Yes (if they have specific funding for it)

For fencing- is this currently viable with current inferstructure ? Generally no (though there are a couple of Universities that are doing really well considering).

Should Universities spend money on sport and therefore have to decrease support for welfare for all students & students in financially difficult positions? No

If sport at Universities could attract high levels of income from their sports (like in the US) then I agree that they would be in a better position to support athletes in all sports better. Can this happen in the UK, either no or it will take a lot of time as public opinion of Uni sport needs to change dramatically.

randomsabreur
-29th April 2008, 10:11
There is no way that universities can afford to pay more money - most universities are struggling for money in general, and have more important things to spend it on - like having enough tutors so you don't have "small group" tutorials in groups of 20...

However, universities can still be supportive, through helping to arrange commercial sponsorship (which happens to a certain degree for team sports with team kit) and through a degree of organisation of timetables so that the athletes can train sensibly at appropriate times of day, and can attend training at appropriate clubs. The problem is that the BUSA fencing set up does not gel well with the international calendar - clashes with Junior A-Grades, and universities would be within their rights to expect some representation at BUSA level, in return for their support.

silvercross
-29th April 2008, 10:41
But doesn't the US university fencing season also clash to a degree with the international fencing calendar? It's just a matter of picking and chosing in that respect.

US universities also have very strong Alumni Associations, which do tend to contribute significantly (albeit not as much as the Football and Basketball teams) to the Athletics budget via memberships, fundraisers, etc. This seems to be prevalent in the UK only in Oxbridge, with the rest of the universities only now starting to realize the potential of a strong alumni link.

Gangsta G
-29th April 2008, 11:56
Some people have a choice, go to Uni or follow the dream.

Only a very few reach the top, so do you risk the rest of your life?

Some of the top Uni's offer both, Northumbia has a very good fencing team and they are supported, others don't, in fact discourage it as a distractuion.

They miss the point you can do both, Jamie Kenbar at Oxford and many others do and could be used to attract top students.You can also go to uni as a mature student once you've finished fencing. People seem to forget this.

rory
-29th April 2008, 13:54
Only a very few reach the top, so do you risk the rest of your life?


There appears to be an implicit assumption that going to Uni is necessary to be successful in life and work.

I'd hardly say that not going to University is "risking the rest of your life" - particularly since, as Gangsta points out, it's not an irreversible choice.

Dalesman
-29th April 2008, 15:32
There appears to be an implicit assumption that going to Uni is necessary to be successful in life and work.



I got where I am today without going to Uni ,and yes it was the right thing for me to do. But my kids want the type of jobs that without the Degree you would have no or very little chance of getting any where in, so going to Uni is not an option but required.

Delaying going to Uni would also have a very seerious effect, so do they risk all for the 1:100 chance of making it or attempt the 1:1000 chance but at least know that you have options (son made the choice on his own, without any pressure for parents).

Fortunately he has a fantastic coach at Uni with good opponents so he has increased his chances.

Baldric
-29th April 2008, 15:50
I had to vote "no".

Universities should concentrate their resources on their prime goal, which is to educate people and carry out research.

Encouraging non-elite sports participation is sensible, because it probably has a net benefit to the tax payer, by way of improved health etc.

Thats not to say that those who have funding aimed at elite sport can't co-operate more closely with those universities who want to attract that sort of student - Loughborough being the obvious example, but others like Bath and Northumbria as well.

On a side issue, I think that the over-expansion of the University system, and the consequent imposition of fees and loans is the worst dis-service done to a generation of young people in this country since the war. It would have been much better to have less places, and fund them properly.

Sorry for drifting off topic.

Baldric

silvercross
-29th April 2008, 15:58
On a side issue, I think that the over-expansion of the University system, and the consequent imposition of fees and loans is the worst dis-service done to a generation of young people in this country since the war. It would have been much better to have less places, and fund them properly.

It's what happens when they cease to be universities, and start becoming 'businesses'.

Andrew L
-29th April 2008, 16:05
... but they don't so no.

I have to concur with Baldric that sporting bodies should perhaps be partnering with Universities/Colleges to offer a balance of education and sporting development for some of our elite athletes. We have to recognise that success in a minority support like ours isn't necessarily going to provide a long term career for an individual and an alternative career option once the days of glory are over is a good idea.

Baldric
-29th April 2008, 16:06
It's what happens when they cease to be universities, and start becoming 'businesses'.

Its what happens when politician's grasp of logic is so inadequate that they looked at data showing that when n% of the population went to uni, on average they earned x% more money in later life, and inferred that this would remain true regardless of the value of n.

I am reminded of John Prescotts speech when he claimed that under Labour "All children would get above average exam results." :whistle:

Red
-29th April 2008, 16:44
I said no.
University did give me a chance to try out two sports I hadn't had the opportunity to before (fencing and Shotokan Karate).
The improved flexibility that the karate gave me is still there even though the muscles to perform a roundhouse kick to head haven't been used in almost two years.
The fencing has made me more competitive, and thanks to an unfortunate event I dived into coaching - this has made me want to become a teacher and has given me a reasonable chance of getting to a world championships before I'm fifty (masters'). The level of the club was about right for a novice with a little determination to succeed (also drove me to doing the sabre rankings, reviving Notts&Derbys). If the club was more professional or geared towards the elite, I doubt I'd have done half the things I've done.

I'd suggest pouring some money from the outside into Bath, Northumbria and Loughborough rather than using the Uni's (overstretched) money.

PM1
-29th April 2008, 17:17
I voted for the vegan option - seriously.

Boy is at Northumbria. It is by no means perfect but would appear to be much more supportive than many of the other unis. Boy had Bela Kopetka as his coach there for his first year (his ideal), no prof coach on campus this year, but offer of payment of coaching fees off campus (and hopefully a prof caoch next accademic year). Money is not flowing all year, BUT they were very supportive during BUSA season (accomodation, transport etc). The budget is not huge. There is the offer of payment of GB jnr/snr representational trip exes, and I am making my claim this week.

Boy went to get a degree: the course + fencing sponsorship was ideal for him. It is probably as close to the offer of full time training as he can get whilst being "productive" elsewhere.

It's the "should" in the question that bothers me....that's why I voted vegan.....

pigeonmeister
-29th April 2008, 20:32
I am sitting on campus at the University of Virginia (on a research grant) and last night I trained with the uni team- who are a much more social than nationally competitive club.

UVA is by any standards a very rich university. I guarantee that any UK student would be bowled over by the facilities here. That said, they are really only interested in their core 'American' sports- the usual suspects.

These sports operate on a level that is totally alien, commercially, to UK institutions. They have a football stadium that seats 60,000 and fill it for every, televised, home game.

The fencing team are not materially any more competitive or well off than my uni team at Brum. Only a few uni's (Ohio, obviously) have invested genuine resources for fencing.

Essentially, those US universities willing to invest in fencing are the exception. It's not really useful to use the US Uni model in this regard- the big sports play a much larger role in regional and university sporting consciousness; in which fencing will always be excluded.

Purely my opinion: Universities are for learning- they have no business handing money to sports people ahead of attracting the best academics (staff and students).

If we had big regional fencing centers, staffed by top full time coaches, then elite fencers at local universities could use these like everyone else. If you want to look at the US as a model- look at why their WS were so good before they got to uni. Better still, the Italians, Russians etc..

ChubbyHubby
-29th April 2008, 23:47
vaguely relevant to this thread, interesting anyway:

Video on CNN http://www.cnn.com/video/#/video/sports/2008/04/28/natpkg.britta.heidemann.cnn?iref=videosearch

silvercross
-30th April 2008, 09:10
I am sitting on campus at the University of Virginia (on a research grant) and last night I trained with the uni team- who are a much more social than nationally competitive club.

UVA is by any standards a very rich university. I guarantee that any UK student would be bowled over by the facilities here. That said, they are really only interested in their core 'American' sports- the usual suspects.

These sports operate on a level that is totally alien, commercially, to UK institutions. They have a football stadium that seats 60,000 and fill it for every, televised, home game.

The fencing team are not materially any more competitive or well off than my uni team at Brum. Only a few uni's (Ohio, obviously) have invested genuine resources for fencing.

Essentially, those US universities willing to invest in fencing are the exception. It's not really useful to use the US Uni model in this regard- the big sports play a much larger role in regional and university sporting consciousness; in which fencing will always be excluded.

Purely my opinion: Universities are for learning- they have no business handing money to sports people ahead of attracting the best academics (staff and students).

If we had big regional fencing centers, staffed by top full time coaches, then elite fencers at local universities could use these like everyone else. If you want to look at the US as a model- look at why their WS were so good before they got to uni. Better still, the Italians, Russians etc..

You bring up a really good point. Most US unis (and not really forgetting your point about the training regimes in Europe) have two separate sports structures available for their students.

1-They have the competitive sports structure which usually competes in NCAA or the other league (I always forget which one it is), and is the main income generator for their sports programmes. This structure provides pretty much olympic-standard training for their student-athletes in a variety of disciplines.

2-They have what is commonly known as 'intramural' sports, which is much closer to the british model in they way it regulates itself. (I know that BUSA does not regulare the 15 different faculty football teams most unis have, but I am merely saying it follows a similar structure).

The university I worked for (Florida State) did have the traditional 80,000 seat stadium for the football team, multimillion dollar sponsorship deal with Nike, and host of other NCAA sports teams, yet fencing wasn't an NCAA sport for them, but rather an intramural one (and as such a much more socially oriented rather than performance oriented one. UVA is much the same, fencing is not an NCAA sport there, but rather an intramural one).

There are, of course, a lot more intricate dynamics of why some unis have NCAA teams in some sports and why others don't which go beyond the mere 'cash flow provided by core sports' (I can mention article 11, if I remember the name correctly, which placed a minimum percentage on the number of scholarships a university can allow by gender as a reason why some universities have scrapped programmes and demoted them to 'non-NCAA' status as one reason), but that would require a whole other thread (about as long as the several hundred page long NCAA handbook).

Since quite a few forumites have mentioned that one alternative would be to encourage some unis to continue their already expansive sports development programmes (Bath, Loughborough, Northumbria), would it be a worthwhile suggestion to have them perhaps compete in a separate structure? (this is, of course open entirely to debate)

randomsabreur
-30th April 2008, 10:11
Part of the problem is that at the moment the most sports orientated universities (Loughborough, Bath and Northumbria) have strong academic reputations in only a limited number of subjects, most of which are more science biased. Anyone who wants to take an arts degree, and get a job in the city (which will apply to a fair few fencers...) would be better off going to a different university which is more highly regarded by the relevant employers. I'm very aware that Loughborough is seen as one of the most prestigious universities for engineering, and am sure that Bath and Northumbria have their own strengths, but for people wanting to do medicine or vet degrees, the courses are only offered at a few universities.

A better solution would be investment in a stronger regional centre of excellence system, with a dedicated salle and a full time coach who would be available for school and private lessons during the day (brings in money, saves travel time for coach and saves transporting equipment) and for use by clubs and/or squad training during the evenings, fencers would be able to train with people who are outside the university system - too young or too old, and would not be tied to a particular university, but would be able to choose from the several universities in the surrounding area (e.g. Bath, Bristol, UWE, Cardiff could all feed into the South West Centre of Excellence structure, Manchester's and Liverpool's universities could all feed into a North West Centre and Warwick, Coventry, Aston, Birmingham, University of Central England could feed into a Midlands centre). That might also help retain people after university, as the flexibilty offered by training opportunities 5 nights a week would make it easier to combine training with working full time.

Although people working full time will be unlikely to be able to compete on an equal level with those able to train full time, depth of competition at senior level (particularly for the women's weapons) will only improve if fencers coming out of juniors continue to compete at open level once they have left university.

scottishsabreur
-30th April 2008, 11:50
There appears to be an implicit assumption that going to Uni is necessary to be successful in life and work.

I'd hardly say that not going to University is "risking the rest of your life" - particularly since, as Gangsta points out, it's not an irreversible choice.

University is no longer the be all and end all (that's if it ever was).

On the whole uni's do not offer the financial support necessary for established and developing athletes, however I really believe it is largely down to the fact that the uni's can't afford it (as Roz said).

The problem is that the British and Scottish governments are too concerned with increasing participation in sport at a young age (see Sport 21 document) but they then fail to support the athletes which this kind of programme produces and so the athletes are left disallusioned and usually leave the sport or are forced to accept that they will have to use they talents in recreational sport alone.

This isn't an issue for the unis to sort out, it must be dealt with at a more grass roots level.

WolfMoon
-6th May 2008, 15:17
As with any sport, if there is real interest in bringing on our athletes and supporting them then, there needs to be support over a wide range of ages and locations (demographic as well as geographic.)
Sports need to be encouraged at at early age, yes... If it is encouraged then the younger kids can diversify as they get older.
Secondary schools and Universities can do their bit but centres of excellence need to be established (in all fields) if we are serious...
Don't limit these centres to universities though ~ if someone has a passion in a non-academic field should this exlude them?
Sport is (or should be) for all