By Cooper Nelson
GCU News Bureau
Grand Canyon University freshman Blake Todd turned down offers to play collegiate baseball to focus on education.
Todd, a biology major with an emphasis in pre-med, felt the rigors of a collegiate season might delay his undergraduate degree — so he turned down offers to try out for the Antelopes, though he excelled as a high school ballplayer in California.
Last semester, Todd and fellow freshman Cole Nesius approached GCU Assistant Athletic Director Dan Nichols, who manages the University’s club sports, to pitch the idea of forming a club baseball team. Nichols approved the team, adding baseball to a growing list of club sports that includes men’s and women’s lacrosse, men’s rugby, men’s and women’s tennis, bowling, and cycling and extreme sports.
Club athletes are not offered scholarships, though the University covers half the cost of equipment, athletic fees and space to practice, in addition to food and travel expenses. Club teams are also expected to abide by all University rules and regulations. The idea is to give students the opportunity to coexist alongside GCU’s official NCAA athletic programs, since many cannot commit to demanding practice schedules and road trips each week.
“It is hard to be a pre-med major and go from 8 (a.m.) to 8 (p.m.) every day as a college athlete,” said Todd, 18, who serves as the club baseball team’s coach.
“It was one of those situations where I had the opportunity to play at other colleges, but I wanted education to come first,” Todd said.
Of course, NCAA student athletes pursue challenging degrees and succeed in the classroom just like any college student. GCU’s student athletes often have assigned team study halls and access to tutors if they are struggling with a certain course or subject amid the demands of their sports.
“The sport you play is your passion and like your art, so it naturally comes first,” said GCU men’s basketball forward Blake Davis, a 22-year-old senior industrial psychology major.
“When basketball is going well, school is great, but when it’s not, it’s hard to stay focused and do your homework or study instead of saying, ‘I’ll do this tomorrow when I get my game right,’” Davis said.
Club sports also offer students who failed to earn athletic scholarships the chance to play at the collegiate level and advance their game beyond less-competitive intramural teams. GCU club teams compete against other Division-I university club teams and local junior colleges.
GCU’s bowling and rugby squads are scheduled to compete against schools like Arizona State University, San Jose State and University of Nevada-Las Vegas. The men’s lacrosse team has already proven to be a success, advancing to the MCLA D-I tournament last season.
Nichols brought in talented, experienced coaches to build the teams, like former Arizona All-American rugby player Ryan Kelly and bowling coach Dave Cirigliano, who had a brief stint as a professional bowler and brings 27 years of bowling experience to the Thunder Alley lanes where the team hosts a tournament next week.
Nichols added that he hoped GCU club sports would create excitement around campus.
“I tried to bring in the best coaching staffs in order to have the best clubs teams to be competitive, because we’re trying to not only offer sports to students but also compete,” Nichols said. “I think the key is to get the right coaches and the right sports so students will want to come to GCU to join those teams.”
GCU will offer most major sports at the University’s Mesa campus in 2015, Nichols said. For more information on GCU’s club sports or to sign up for a sport, contact him at Dan.Nichols@gcu.edu.
Contact Cooper Nelson at 639.7511 or firstname.lastname@example.org.