This article first appeared in Ski Racing Magazine on May 7th, 1999.
Peter Dodge is the men’s alpine coach at Dartmouth College. He has been a long time member of the Eastern Alpine Competition Committee, National Sport Committee, and is a former chairman of the National Development Committee.
I have been coaching collegiate skiers for the past 10 years. As the collegiate representative to the Alpine Development Committee, I have been constantly asked about the role that collegiate skiing can or should play in the development of skiers for the USA. there has been much discussion about how college skiing does or does not fit into the new “pipeline.” Due to the limitations imposed by collegiate regulations, academic commitments, and collegiate competition schedules it has been difficult to fit collegiate skiing into the USSA pipeline model. College ski programs have a wide variety of goals and missions, which admittedly, do not necessarily fit the USSA development model. However, all the programs and their coaches are interested in producing skiers who go fast and win races and they are doing a good job of that. Just look at the results from this year’s and past year’s U.S. Nationals – often half the first page is filled with skiers who are current or past full-time college skiers.
No other skiing nation has collegiate skiing programs like the U.S. Other sports, such as basketball, track and field, swimming, tennis, and golf, utilize collegiate programs to develop many of the U.S.’s Olympic and professional athletes. These U.S. collegiate programs, skiing included, are also used by many foreign nations as development programs for their future Olympians and professionals. The average age of the top 30 in the world in men’s slalom is over 27 and in GS it is 30. For women, the average of the top 30 in slalom and giant slalom is 26. Making the commitment to join the USST is making a career commitment to become a professional athlete and to commit to that career into their 30s. How can a 17-year-old understand this commitment? How can they commit to this with no education to fall back on? Most professional athletes, football and basketball players, have a college degree and they make millions of dollars. How can skiers who make little or nothing be expected to stay with the sport long enough to be successful?
We need to allow young skiers to be able to choose to get an education, to take the time to develop physically, emotionally and socially without throwing away their dreams of becoming the best skiers in the world. Except for the very exceptional athlete who is ready to “go pro” right out of high school (a decision which in other sports has a very poor record of long term success), athletes should be able to make a commitment to getting a college degree without giving up their chances of making the USST. I know that the USST and the Development Program have had an open-door policy regarding age, but ask nay National Junior Group skier about going to college and they usually respond, “I’m not ready to quit yet” or “I am going to give it one more shot to make the team.” If they don’t make the team by age 19 they are ready to quit.
Since the collegiate programs do not neatly fit into the pipeline model it is difficult for collegiate skiers to meet the USST selection criteria which are based on that model. So what is the solution? Allow young skiers to commit to four years of collegiate skiing and achieving a college degree without closing the door on the their ski racing future. Make a commitment to them by guaranteeing that the top graduating college skiers will be named to the USST each year. The current band-aid approach of providing them with a camp opportunity or a “pay as you go” program will not work. While they are in school, utilize the current National Junior Group and National Elite Group development programs to supplement their college team programs. The criteria will be different than the regular USST criteria but no less demanding. Here is my proposal:
- The top 2 men and women graduating from college each year will be named as full USST members for one year. After one year they must then meet the regular team criteria. (Over half of this year’s men’s C Team would not make the team this year if they had to re-qualify). Criteria will include NCAA Championships, U.S. National and NorAm results, and FIS rankings.
- A minimum world rank of top 200 could be set to assure a high standard. (There are currently only 6 U.S. men in the top 200 in any event who are not already on the USST.)
- Nominates would have to meet all physical standards and make the same commitment to the team program as all other team members.
- Of course, any college skier could be named to the team at any time by making the regular criteria.
It is important for a young skier to be able to make the decisions to go to college, and to know that if he or she is one of the top 2 collegiate skiers in the country upon graduation, that they will have earned a chance to be on the U.S. Ski Team. This would create an unbelievable level of competition among college skiers. The ski team would be getting mature, dedicated, educated athletes ready to make the long term commitment to being professional athletes.
So, USST really open the door! This would be a small commitment on your part. Let’s put aside the bureaucratic excuses and just do it! Would it hurt to get another Thomas Vonn on the team next year? Maybe Uros Pavlovic will be competing against us at Salt Lake 2002. We better have our best skiers there too!
Two college graduates meet the proposed college criteria for this season. David Viele, NCAA GS Champion, ranked 100 in the world in GS and Jennifer Collings, 2nd NCAA GS, 4th NCAA Sl, 168 world rank in GS and 198 world rank in SL.