Most mornings, the Seattle Pacific crew team gathers behind the Royal Brougham Pavilion, huddled around a dock beside the Lake Washington Ship Canal. From 4:45 to 6:45 a.m., Monday through Saturday, the 26-person team rises with the sun, rowing up and down along the canal and Lake Union in preparation for their upcoming regatta. But as the sun comes up, it sheds light across more than the crew team’s flashing oars on the water. It spreads across the run-down boats, timeworn uniforms, and insufficient equipment that they say needs to be replaced.
“When we go to a regatta, the other teams usually have matching gear for their equipment,” said Ben Pierson, a sophomore men’s varsity rower. “We have to put our loose equipment in plastic bags.”
While the rowing squads compete at the same level in NCAA Division II as the other 13 sports offered through SPU, the crew team is currently one of the least funded sports in the athletic department. Due to the relatively low funding, rowing athletes are expected to raise enough money to buy their own uniforms and equipment through fundraising, scholarships and private donors.
SPU Athletic Director Erin O’Connell said that the university is responsible for approving the budget of each sports program.
“All sports are funded at varying levels,” O’Connell said. “None of our sports programs are fully funded by the institution… every sport is covering a part of their operating costs through fundraised dollars.”
According to O’Connell, each sport provides a yearly budget request to the athletic department. Once received, the athletic department submits the request to the university, where it is approved or denied.
“My understanding is that [the amount of funding the crew team receives] is historical and it’s been in place for many years,” O’Connell said. “Crew has just always been given this kind of budget.”
The athletic department declined to release any details regarding specific budget amounts approved for crew or any other Seattle Pacific sports program.
According to Head Coach Keith Jefferson, low funding from the university limits the rowing team’s ability to recruit athletes from outside of SPU.
“We’re unable to recruit externally because there is just no budget for that,” Jefferson said. “That requires a traveling budget and scholarship money to offer those students that are specifically looking to row for a university.”
Jefferson said that SPU rowing teams primarily consist of walk-on recruits, who are students who join the rowing team only after being admitted to the university.
“The university wants us to be able to go to nationals and win a title,” sophomore women’s varsity rower Emma Bolton said. “The only way other schools do that is they recruit.”
As head coach, Jefferson said that he isn’t allowed to offer scholarships to recruits from outside the university. According to O’Connell, any coach requesting to recruit from outside the university cannot offer a scholarship, but will be given funds to help in the recruiting process.
“Typically, we’re doing regional recruiting where coaches can drive to or take a short plane flight to recruit,” O’Connell said. “We’ll fund recruiting depending on what the coaches want to do.”
According to Jefferson, the last and only boat purchased by the university for the crew teams was in 1988. He said that the four-person boat is still used as a training boat and is sometimes used in races.
O’Connell said that SPU’s crew team was considered a club until the late 1970’s. In 1996, NCAA sanctioned women’s rowing as a sport. Officially, men’s rowing is a non-sanctioned NCAA sport. O’Connell said that most schools that offer men’s rowing as a varsity sport still require the team to abide by the same NCAA regulations as the women teams.
Currently, the university offers one full-ride scholarship, which is divided up between the 10-member woman’s squad. No scholarships are offered for the 12-member men’s squad.
“I only received $3,500 for the whole year from the one scholarship,” said Lexi Krueger, a freshman and women’s novice rower.
Larger universities in the Northwest, including Western Washington University and Portland State University, typically offer up to 12 scholarships between their rowing programs. Smaller universities in the Seattle area, such as Pacific Lutheran and Seattle University, consider their women’s rowing team a sport and their men’s team a club.
In a phone interview, PLU Director of Rowing Thomas Schlenker said that for many schools like PLU or SPU, it’s cheaper and easier to only have the woman’s rowing team recognized as a sport and the men’s as a club.
“A woman’s team is necessary because there is such a high number of women at these universities,” Schlenker said. “We need to maintain high opportunities for these women.”
Schlenker also said that as a student-run program, men’s rowing clubs are able to operate at lower costs and practice outside of NCAA regulations.
“They still train, still compete,” Schlenker said. “It’s just that as a club, they’re free to train whenever they want.”
This year, major donations to the SPU crew team from private donors such as the Anduin Foundation, a local nonprofit organization, have helped to buy a new $47,000 boat for the team. Additional funds are raised annually through Ergothon, an event during which rowers are sponsored by outside donors to row 30 miles over the course of several hours. This year’s Ergothon raised roughly $12,600. The rowing team plans to put the money towards buying new equipment. Through future Ergothon events, Jefferson hopes to eventually fund the construction of a rowing simulator facility.
The rowing team also raises money by delivering boats for Pocock, a boat manufacturer based in the Northwest.
Varsity men’s rower Matt Oclander said that the older equipment that the crew team uses is difficult to work with.
“You don’t see top performing teams using extremely old equipment,” said Oclander. “It would definitely make things easier having newer equipment.”
Oclander said that the carbon fiber lining inside of the boats that the rowing team currently uses is frayed and often scratches his calves. While Oclander said that new gear wouldn’t drastically improve his squad’s performance on the water, tangible financial support would reassure him that the university is as serious about the rowing program as he is.
“…We’re working our butts off,” Oclander said. “Financial support would show that we’re appreciated by the university.”