Club Soccer at Ohio State: A Force to be Reckoned With

Ohio State Women's Club Soccer team after winning the regional tournament this year.

Photo Credit: Instagram @OSUWSC

The words “club sports” often have the connotation of something you do for fun on the side, or an activity that’s done recreationally. Those who belittle the value of non-varsity sports, however, may need to take a seat because men and women’s club soccer at Ohio State is serious business.

“This is not a step up from intramural (recreational soccer),” said Matt D’Auteuil, the head coach of the Ohio State women’s club soccer team. “This is basically a half step down from the varsity and the Ohio State community should not just dismiss us as just some club team that messes around once a week.”

Indeed, both the men and women’s club soccer team at Ohio State have achieved phenomenal success in a competitive environment not far removed from the varsity level. Both teams are members of the Midwest Alliance Soccer conference and play both conference and nonconference teams throughout the fall season.

The goal of their whole season is to make it to The NIRSA National Championships. NIRSA is the governing body for collegiate recreational and club sports, similar to the NCAA but for club sports. In each of the last five years, the women’s team has made it to nationals all five times while the men’s team has made it four out of five times. Both teams won in 2014 and last year the women’s team made it to the final four while the men’s team came in second place. This year, both teams competed yet again at the NIRSA National Championships in Pheonix with the men’s team making it to the final 16 and the women’s team making it to the final 8 out of 24 total teams from all over the country.

Ohio State Men’s Club Soccer Team poses for team photo at the 2016 NIRSA National Championships.

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Although the club soccer teams play other clubs in their own conferences, both teams often play schools that are competing in the NCAA division II level during their season. Thomas Gullo, an Ohio State senior and president of the men’s soccer club, says that the Ohio State club soccer teams are fully capable of competing with division I schools.

“I’m not gonna say we could for sure beat them,” Gullo said, “but we could definitely hang in with them and would definitely give them a run for their money.”

Over the last few years, the Ohio State men’s varsity team has consistently called up players from the club team and even some players on the women’s club soccer team previously competed in the NCAA level.

Gullo himself is indicative of the type of quality player that makes up the club soccer teams at Ohio State. One year ago, he was called up to play with the Ohio State Men’s varsity soccer team, but declined because he said he didn’t want to miss out on all that the college experience had to offer. Many other club soccer players have similar pedigrees in soccer, but have chosen to shy away from the rigors of Division I varsity sports.

OSU senior Katie Scarpino is the team captain of the Ohio State Women’s Club Soccer. After playing Division I soccer for a year at Loyola University Chicago, Scarpino realized she didn’t like her former school environment and how much being a Division I athlete consumed her college life. But since her transfer to Ohio State and commitment to the club soccer team, Scarpino has no doubt that the level she is playing at now is not much different. She has also had more time to experience other parts of college life beyond soccer.

“I am able to be involved in more things while playing competitive club soccer here, other than Division 1 soccer where it’s really the only thing you can do,” Scarpino said. “We do more than play soccer. We do things like community service events, which makes us really well rounded girls.”

One thing, however, which is hardly similar with the teams at the varsity level is the budget the team receives. While varsity receives hundred of thousands of dollars to operate, club soccer teams receive only few hundred dollars. Each club soccer team only has access to $1500 from Undergraduate Student Government and up to $3000 maximum for nationals funding from Recreational Sports at Ohio State. But even this money is not a certainty. Teams have to fill out lengthy applications, write essays, and often times have to wait up to one full semester to get reimbursed. With all this uncertainty, club soccer teams have to rely on their own money and fundraising to support all their traveling, equipment and coaching needs.  

“We are penny pinching to get it down anywhere we can,” Gullo said.

A recent example of the financial difficulties the club teams face, is the teams’ recent trip to the NIRSA National Championships for soccer in Phoenix. For the men’s team alone, the budget for 27 players and several coaches was over $20,000. The team set up a GoFundMe page which by the time they left had only reached just over $1500. With the money from the university not coming for months down the line, both the men and women’s club soccer teams had to cover most of the budget out of their own pockets.

These financial barriers, however, have hardly discouraged the club teams from competing at the highest levels possible. While games against mid-west region teams form the staple of their schedule, both the men and women’s club soccer teams at Ohio State are always looking for ways to compete against fiercer teams from anywhere in the country, even if that means scraping for any resource they can get.

The constant need for funding has hardly dampened the enthusiasm of both club soccer teams to represent Ohio State while playing the sport they love. Club soccer has allowed each team member to participate in big time college sports, and, at the same time, have the full college experience.

“They are out here for themselves,” D’Auteuil said. “They aren’t here for NCAA accolades. Not for mom and dad’s sporting dreams. They are students first. It’s pretty much just the love for soccer.”