Another season and another Trinity men’s squash national championship. This is a trend as sure as Sunday garlic bread in Commons. The Bantams men’s squash has captured 16 of the last 19 College Squash Association Team National Championships. This includes a streak between 1998 and 2012, when the team won 252 straight matches; the longest winning streak in college sports history. This success has brought a great deal of attention from national media outlets. The New York Times, Sports Illustrated and USA Today have all published stories about Trinity College squash. In fact, ESPN ranked the Bantams as one of the top 10 sports dynasties of all time.
What has been the Bantam’s secret to success? It’s not terribly complicated. As reported by The Student earlier this semester, Trinity as a whole has shown a substantial institutional commitment to attracting the best squash talent in the world. Great players equals great success; it’s really that simple.
Nevertheless, it’s an impressive feat that a small school like Trinity is able to be one of the best teams in the country, and it’s something Bates can do as well. In big time college sports (football, soccer, basketball, baseball etc.), Trinity, Bates, or any of the other NESCAC schools will never be able to garner national attention. Bates, as a Division III institution, can compete for national championships at that level. But Division I schools regularly receive national recognition in those sports. As a smaller school, Bates lacks the resources and draw that bigger state schools offer athletes in major sports. Additionally, as a Division III program, Bates cannot offer athletic scholarships, and is rarely, if ever, featured on national television. Bates will never be able to attract the top talent in major sports, but in a niche sport such as squash Bates could potentially compete as a top team.
Subsequently, my proposal is for Bates athletics to emulate the model that Trinity squash has set out. This would mean picking a niche sport, such as skiing, rugby, or sailing, and recruiting top talent. Becoming one of the top teams in a given sport will bring notoriety, excitement, and money to campus.
And the sport Bates should pursue is competitive video gaming. Yes, you read that right. The official term for competitive gaming is eSports; a growing number of colleges have begun to form varsity eSport teams. A handful of schools, including the University of California, Irvine, have even started offering partial scholarships to eSport athletes. “We’re going to be the Duke Basketball of eSports,” said the director of the Irvine eSport initiative.
College eSports fits Bates for a number of reasons. First, it is played indoors, which eliminates the disadvantage that Bates outdoor sports teams face by virtue of being located so far north. Second, if you take a look at the list of colleges that currently have varsity eSport teams, none of them have the same academic prestige as Bates. This prestige will give Bates a distinct edge when it comes to recruiting. Last, the establishment of a Bates eSports program could be coupled well with the rise of our digital and computational studies program currently being formed.
Close your eyes and picture this right now. A tour of prospective students walks through the quad on a beautiful spring day. As they walk by the chapel the tour guide says, “Bates features the largest selection of cereal in the country, one of the best debate teams in the world, and the best competitive gaming team in the country.” One of the prospective students, an accomplished artist as well as video game enthusiast, perks up their ears when they hear about the eSport program. Six months later, that student is admitted to Bates, and is an invaluable contributor to the community over the next four years.