Varsity Sports Challenge 2023
What do you get when you mix a fundraising challenge with notoriously competitive people?
The Varsity Sports Challenge 2023 is a fundraising effort put on by University of Regina’s athletics to help support Cougar and Ram student athletes. The fundraiser was created in 2020, the year the pandemic began, as a way to provide funding to U of R sport teams during a period when sponsorship opportunities were limited. The fundraising efforts provide monetary support to U of R teams to allow them to provide more scholarship options to student athletes, and to allow for preseason and offseason opportunities for athletes to compete.
When asked about how COVID-19 affected funding to U of R sports, U of R Director of Sport, community Engagement, and Athlete Development Lisa Robertson spoke of two ways that COVID-19 has impacted U of R sports teams. She explained that the administrative central funding was impacted because fewer students were coming to school, which meant that most students weren’t paying the athletic fee which helps athletics with funding. However, the U of R sports teams did see an uptake in donations at the start of the pandemic due to the generosity that most people felt in wanting to help their communities.
There was also a lack of sponsorship opportunities due to a lack of availability to advertise at U of R home games because of the cancellation of USports during the 2020 season. Robertson explained that another impact of COVID-19 on small and local businesses affected the teams as well because most of the U of R sports teams work closely with community business and, due to the pandemic, those opportunities for funding and activities were limited. Robertson also mentioned that the campaign is a struggle this year, which “has to do with inflation. People’s dollars aren’t going as far as they used to, and therefore they can’t be as generous as they used to.”
When asked about why donations are important, Robertson has this to say: “I spoke about the centrally funded or operating account. So, my central budget covers the team’s regular season travel, and then it covers a healthy portion of a recruiting budget for our coaches to go out and recruit student athletes. And it does not cover exhibition travel. So, any kind of non-conference needs to be paid for from the teams fundraising account, so they need to raise funds for that.”
This means that teams must use their fundraising money for out-of-season and preseason activities, which include trips to other places in order to play the best teams in preparation for their upcoming season. These fundraising efforts also help to make sure that student athletes aren’t paying out of pocket for everything while they are away. For instance, not having to worry about paying for meals while on the road during the preseason or offseason.
Many U of R teams fundraise throughout the year by hosting different events and running day camps for future athletes and kids. These fundraising activities provide good monetary support. However, most teams have found that the Varsity Challenge has allowed them to receive more funding for their teams. Many student athletes also rely on scholarship funding to attend university. Student athletes often have limited time between sports and school to maintain full-time employment, therefore scholarships allow student athletes to focus on their studies and sports without feeling a greater financial burden.
Unlike student athletes in the United States, full-ride scholarships are pretty much non-existent in Canada, which means most athletes rely on some form of scholarship money while working a part- or full-time job and competing in order to maintain being a student athlete. In a video posted on U of R social media pages to promote the Varsity Challenge, U of R basketball player Cara Misskey expresses the importance of scholarships by saying that “for athletes like me, coming here from out of town, the scholarships I receive allow me to play elite USports basketball while I still can focus on my education and for this, I’m truly grateful.”
The idea of the challenge is that when you donate to a team, they will receive points, and the top two teams will receive prizes of $3500 (first) and $1500 (second). The challenge runs from August 15 to September 30 and is for anyone who wants to support a U of R sports team and those who are U of R alumni. Although anyone can donate to the Varsity Challenge, much of the donations come from alumni. The hope is that alumni will be able to give back to their teams and universities.
The points system is dependent on the dollar amount being gifted. Individuals who give $20-$149 will give 10 points to their selected team, and individuals who give more than $2500 will give the maximum number of points, which is 1000. If a donor is new, they will give an additional 500 points to their team, and recurring pledges made will give an extra 1000 points to their team. It is important to note that only gifts over $20 will give a team points. Points are stackable, meaning that your original donation and the additional points given to new donors and recurring donors will be given to your team. In providing a donation, the name on the credit card used must match the name of the donor in order to receive a tax credit, and to be able to give your team the points that they need.
The leaderboard for the challenge will be updated each week on Friday throughout the challenge. The team with the most points by September 30 will receive an additional $3500 and the team in second place will receive an additional $1500. The winners of the challenge will be announced at the women’s and men’s basketball home opener on November 11 against the University of Saskatchewan, as part of the U Prairie Challenge.