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It’s often a roster reserved for high school sports. A developmental stage in young teenage careers, junior varsity programs serve as opportunities to improve in relatively stress-free environments. With extended rosters, coaches can allow young athletes to mature and progress until they are ready and prepared for a varsity position.
The same opportunities arise at the college level. With rosters that are often cut low, coaches are given the chance to have freshman and sophomores play on the junior varsity level, ensuring that they still get opportunities to play without sitting the bench for multiple years before their chance to start on varsity comes.
At Springfield College that opportunity no longer exists. As of the beginning of the 2015 athletic season, Springfield College has officially cut all junior varsity programs.
Over the past decade, the number of participants in collegiate athletics has slowly fallen. What was once nine healthy JV programs had diminished to seven, five, and eventually three as of 2014, and it had resulted in less than ideal playing situations for those involved.
“The decision was made last year,” Director of Athletics Craig Poisson said. “It comes down to one salient reason: in most cases of the nine JV sports we weren’t putting a first class experience together. There was a couple sports where there was an inability to get a quality schedule, playing club and high school teams. Previously there were a lot of teams, but the numbers had dwindled.”
As the number of opponents fell, Springfield College began doing studies, asking players and coaches about their experience over a five-to-seven year period. Many programs, like women’s basketball and softball, had naturally lost the need for a JV program as a result of fewer players coming out.
“No one was blind sided by the decision,” Poisson said. “Some knew the programs were coming to an end because they already had (due to lack of players). They knew they didn’t have the players to do it.”
While the majority of JV programs had ceased to exist over the past decade, there were still a select few programs that had managed to survive. Baseball, men’s basketball, and women’s soccer were the final three programs before the final decision to eliminate the JV programs was made, while football had scheduled games within the past two seasons.
“We were trying to throw guys together on Thursdays (for weekend JV games),” head football coach Mike DeLong said. “The overall experience of a JV schedule was not what we wanted it to be. We weren’t really developing the way we wanted it to be.
“Our coaching staff really felt it’s important to focus on the varsity schedule.”
While three programs survived, the players and coaches of the teams were not supplied with the ‘first class experience’ that Poisson and the rest of the athletics department aimed to provide. The teams lacked a consistent practice facility, as the JV baseball team was forced to practice almost exclusively on the soccer turf rather than the baseball field, and a competitive schedule was not fulfilled as they were forced to play junior colleges and prep schools.
The JV programs also lacked any significant funding. When JV sports returned to Springfield in the late 1990’s, they acted on a minimal budget. They were allowed to play 50 percent of the varsity schedule, but often times that was not met, and the games were often officiated by two officials in sports that normally received three.
“The budgets for JV programs were essentially non-existent,” said Poisson. “Hand me down uniforms, we were doing the best we could with what he had… Finances were not necessarily a consideration because we were doing a lot with very, very little.”
If the number of JV programs had gone from nine to zero in the matter of one year, there would be some financial backing to cut the programs, but due to the programs gradual declines, the athletics department isn’t expecting to see any financial gains.
That being said, there will be some financial difference at the administrative level. Considering the three JV sports as of last year, the school did pay for the transportation to and from games, as well as 10 dollars per athlete for meals. This financial saving will be done at the administrative level, who had a transportation budget previously in place for all athletics.
The cut is also not expected to affect recruitment. According to studies done by the athletics department, around 20 percent of collegiate athletes at Springfield said they were influenced by the fact that Springfield offered JV. But of those 20 percent, the affect ranged from ‘low impact’ to ‘high impact’, with not all of them being greatly influenced.
“If you have recruits that are focused on playing a JV schedule, maybe you’re recruiting the wrong players,” DeLong said. “We want guys that are focused and feel they want to compete on the varsity level.”
The natural loss of JV programs was a factor in the decision to eliminate JV sports, but it isn’t expected to affect the future numbers of Springfield athletics. Spring sports, like baseball and softball, will see an increase in the number of varsity roster spots. The overall numbers of a program may be down, but the athletics department doesn’t expect that to be relative to the varsity programs.
“Part of the intent with the elimination of JV programs was to do what we do better,” said Poisson. “If that makes us stronger, if that produces a better first class experience, produces more wins, more memorable experiences, then that was the intent.”
The number of overall athletic participants could lead to an increase in the interest of club sports. The current athletics policy prohibits the existence of club sports if there is a varsity offering, but that is something the athletics department isn’t planning on confronting in the immediate future.
“(Adding more club sports is) not a move we will make early on,” Poisson said. “We will have a discussion that will involve enrollment management. We have done some preliminary research, looking at other small private schools in the New England area to see what club offerings they have that parallel the varsity offerings and we’re going to have that conversation, but time will tell.”
A fair number of varsity contributors have come from the JV programs, however. Sean Martin, a D3hoops.com Northeast All-Region Fourth Team selection in 2015, began his career on the JV team at Springfield College, as did Billy Peterson, the anticipated starting first baseman for the Pride. While the grand majority of impact varsity players began their careers with the varsity squad, the JV programs have fostered some of Springfield College’s finest athletes.
The loss of JV programs isn’t expected to create a loss in the number of athletes at Springfield College, nor is it expected to create any financial gain to the athletics department. The decision ultimately came down to the fact that JV athletes at Springfield College weren’t being given a first class experience that the department believes they deserve.
“A myriad of situations across all 9 sports led to the conclusion that JV programs in general, we were not supplying a first class experience,” Poisson said. “One of my tenants as AD is to provide a first class experience. We will find ways to measure that, find metrics, and make sure we are doing that, or strive to do that.
“When you say a first class experience and you don’t have the players, the facility, or the schedule, you begin to question that which you’re doing.”