Intramural Sports Programs

The Collegiate Intramural Experience: Times They Are a-Changin'

By Jeanette Vazquez, Kelly Kwiatkowski, Abigail Whaley & Peter Titlebaum

Collegiate recreational intramural sports programs consist of activities that go beyond the classroom by providing playful, social experiences that help students develop self-awareness and personal growth. Founded on the principle of "participation for all," intramural sports must be inclusive of the whole student body, not just skilled or sport-oriented individuals. However, because these particular events seem to be more popular among white male students, other groups might feel intimidated or even unwelcome in this setting.

During the 2011 NIRSA Annual Conference, the authors, Abigail Whaley and Dr. Peter Titlebaum, gave a presentation called, "Where My Girls At? Exploring the Needs of the Underrepresented Female Participant in Collegiate Intramural Sports." Participation in team sports develops important skills, including constructive communication, active listening and participation, open and willing sharing, cooperativeness, willingness to help, flexibility, team commitment, problem solving and treating others in a respectful and supportive manner. Regardless of these positive learning experiences, participation remains particularly low among female students. After discussing this lack of participation issue, it was requested that minority populations on college campuses also be included in any further research on the topic.

For the purpose of this article, the term "minority" denotes a "part of a population differing from others in some characteristics" and also refers to women, ethnic, and racial groups that are often subjected to differential treatment when compared to white males.

In 2010, according to the U.S. Department of Education, female students represented 57 percent of the nation's college enrollment. Meanwhile, the minority representation had increased from 15 percent in 1976 to 32 percent in 2007. With this rapidly growing representation of minorities comes a challenge for both the curricular and extracurricular programs in higher education.

Despite these growing numbers, most intramural programs are hard pressed to attract participants from any minority group, including international students. Perhaps the main reason is that intramural sports programs do not offer activities in which they are interested. Another issue could be that the current intramural programs are too competitive for those interested in playing for recreational and social purposes.

If intramural programs continue to cater to the white male population in upcoming years, it is evident that all other group participation numbers will dwindle, ultimately resulting in low overall student involvement. The needs of this rapidly-increasing population of students cannot continue to be ignored.

Attention from administrators in collegiate recreation is needed in order to enhance diversity and incorporate ideas to better promote inclusion in recreational sports. Intramural recreational directors need to reach out to the disenfranchised student body. Based on 93 recreation directors surveyed by the authors in 2010, the number of females involved in intramural sports is less than 20 percent of their overall participation. Further, there is only a small window to gaining participation. If females do not enroll in intramural sports by their freshman or sophomore year, playing intramurals is unlikely. Similar conclusions can also be drawn about other minority groups.

What can be done to reverse these trends? First, a majority of recreation departments lack marketing strategies that could be the solution to this ongoing downward trend. Strategies should include a market research study to assess the participation of these underserved groups, as well as understanding their barriers to involvement. Once the assessment has been made, directors can begin establishing a connection with the members of underrepresented populations, perhaps through an advisory board to exchange ideas and concerns for improvements to the program.

It's time to realize that intramurals need to appeal to more than just the traditional North American sports. One example of outside thinking is a game that started at Middlebury College. In 2005, they started playing Quidditch, adapted from J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter books. The game is a cross between rugby, dodgeball and tag. Today play has spread to more than 400 schools and colleges across the country as an intramural or club sport, according to the International Quidditch Association. This kind of thinking shows that times are changing and that intramural sports must keep moving in this direction.

Another solution would be to provide instructional programming in which the students can learn the sport by playing in a less competitive environment. Creating intentionally designed programs guided by a coach will allow for skill progressions and a better understanding of the rules, techniques and practice. This will produce an educational opportunity for individuals to become comfortable enough to progress to playing in a more competitive setting.

Also, by working with campus housing to create a feeder program during the first year of college, the value of becoming involved in intramural sports could be shared with all students, especially those students who might not otherwise seek involvement. Through floor meetings and dorm gatherings, all minority students will be exposed to intramural sports in a non-threatening setting. Just as many universities offer first-year student programming, intramural sports and campus housing could work together to create programs that fit into the same model. The goal of these programs is to expose students to campus life and activities, thus increasing their likelihood of staying at school. Intramural sports are vital to student retention and should be recognized as such. Collegiate recreation promotes happy, healthy students, and intramural sports is just one way to do this.

The quality of a program is reflected by student involvement, interaction and general representation of the diversity of a college campus. We need to realize times are changing and that intramural sports need to change with it.


Jeanette Vazquez is an undergraduate student at St. Mary's University, studying business administration and is a McNair Scholar. Kelly Kwiatkowski is an undergraduate student at the University of Dayton, studying sport management and has interest in pursuing graduate assistantship in college recreation. Abigail Whaley is the assistant director for Facility Operations for the Department of Campus Recreation at the University of Dayton. Dr. Peter Titlebaum is an associate professor of Sport Management at the University of Dayton with more than 25 years of experience teaching and coaching.

© Copyright 2022 Recreation Management. All rights reserved.