CALGARY'S PRESEASON ADVENTURE IS ABOUT FINDING COMPETITION

By Al Mattei
Founder, TopOfTheCircle.com

You could forgive the University of Calgary field hockey team if it was a little tired and sore in the midst of their August 2004 road trip through the United States.

The Dinos' two-week trek was to take them through the Midwest and all the way through the Eastern Seaboard, playing Division I NCAA teams such as Penn State, La Salle, and Central Michigan.

By the time the University of Calgary made a stop at the hockey-specific stadium on the campus of the University of Maryland, it was in the midst of playing three matches in two days.

"The bus trip from Ohio State took longer than we thought," said Calgary head coach Anne Kromm. "We had to get up at 5:30 a.m., so we didn't get much sleep before we played Richmond. We had a really good game this morning against Richmond, and we knew Maryland was going to be really awesome."

The Dinos' 6-0 loss to the Terrapins was not such a bad thing, however; their "real" season was not to begin until October 2004 at the Canada West Tournament, as well as the subsequent Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) championships, where games are scheduled one right after another.

"We do have the No. 1 and 2 teams in Canada (University of Victoria, University of British Columbia) in our conference," Kromm says, "And we usually wind up playing them on one day."

And if you look at the University of Calgary's varsity schedule, the Canada West tournament is the only entry of its 2004 schedule, which neatly shows off the biggest problem facing Canadian college field hockey.

Whereas there are 256 NCAA varsity, about 30 college club teams, and a handful of independent college varsities active in the United States, there were exactly 14 women's college varsity programs in Canada at the start of the 2004 season.

Two schools -- the University of Manitoba and the University of New Brunswick - dropped womens field hockey in early 2004 due to the lack of overall government funding for Canadian institution of higher learning as well as for the lack of a legal mandate for equal funding of men's and women's sports.

These two losses could, according to Kromm, have a crippling effect on the development of the collegiate game nationwide.

"If we lose the ability to hold a national championship because of the lack of teams, then it goes to funding for your sport, and everything has that ripple effect," she says. "Once you lose a sport, it's really hard to get it back."

Canada does not have language similar to Title IX of the 1972 Civil Rights Act that mandates that educational funding between genders cannot be discriminatory. But many Canadian universities have worked out a kind of legal detente where women's and men's sports are compared to each other in terms of overall funding.

"Usually field hockey gets paired with men's ice hockey," Kromm says. "But because women's ice hockey is so popular now, especially being in the Olympics, these women's teams are being brought into the university. The athletic directors are matching men's ice hockey with women's ice hockey."

The University of Calgary, however, is in decent position to survive a downward turn in collegiate participation in Canada. It can draw from the only public-school field hockey league in the country, and the school has a new turf field.

But Kromm and the other coaches of Canadian university teams know that they are at a tremendous disadvantage compared to the raft of U.S. colleges below the 49th Parallel.

"Without scholarships, we have to make our university out to be the best in order to recruit players," Kromm says. "The funding in the United States is amazing, and the facilities blow our minds."

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