The United States Collegiate Ski & Snowboard Association (USCSA) is often cast in the shadow of NCAA ski racing. For years, many have perceived
USCSA member schools as places where less serious or competitive racers
go to ski — but such perceptions have always been flawed, and as the NCAA
circuit ostensibly shrinks, the USCSA continues to grow in strength and numbers.
Mark Sullivan is President of the USCSA. An engineer by trade, Sullivan
is also chair of USSA’s Collegiate Working Group, a FIS technical delegate,
and both an alumnus of and head alpine coach at USCSA member school
Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Worcester, Mass. With competition season
right around the corner, Sullivan shares insights about college racing via the
Ski Racing: What sets the USCSA circuit apart from the NCAA circuit?
Mark Sullivan: We strive to be inclusive. We serve almost a dozen disciplines
across four different sports — alpine skiing, cross country skiing, snowboarding, and freestyle skiing.
We strive to provide a product for all collegiate athletes who desire to participate in snow sports, and because of that, one of our big philosophical differences with NCAA is that we don’t stipulate where your funding has to come
from: if you’re a self-funded team, that’s fine; if your athletic department
funds your team, that’s fine; if student government funds your team — typically referred to as a ‘club team’ — that’s fine, too. (SR note: NCAA eligibility
is predicated upon the requirement that a given school’s athletics department
fund its team or teams.)
We also have a different scoring system than NCAA, and I’ve found that
many of our athletes feel the platform fosters a tremendously positive experience. Our scoring system places more emphasis on team than the individual,
which makes for an environment where there are more opportunities for
SR: NCAA ski racing, certainly, places emphasis on ‘team,’ too: can you further explicate the scoring differences for our readers?
MS: Sure. Take alpine skiing, for example.
The first difference is that we score each sport separately, so if an alpine team
wins an event, they actually win the event. In NCAA, an alpine team can win
while a nordic team loses, which may make the combined result somewhere
in the middle.
The next difference concerns postseason qualification, which is the goal of
most teams. In USCSA, if a team qualifies for postseason competition, all
members of the team are part of that. In NCAA, an athlete qualifies based
on individual results ... In other words, only one person from a given univer-
The United States Collegiate Ski & Snowboard Association brings
more to the snowsport table than ever, says organization president
Mark Sullivan BY BRYCE HUBNER
sity may qualify for NCAA national championships, and he or she effectively
represents the entire university, scores for the entire university. In USCSA,
the emphasis is to get the entire team to national championships, where all
members of the team compete [given the space designated for the number of
individuals comprising a team in a given sport].
While we’re talking about differences, I’d also like to mention a similarity,
and I think it’s one that’s lost on the majority of the general public: NCAA
only recognizes varsity squads or first-team squads and we’re the same, we
only recognize first teams. In passing, I occasionally hear people say we’re
[merely a league for club teams], and that’s just not the case.
At the same time, because we’re an inclusive organization, we often allow
second teams to participate alongside us, but they’re not officially recognized.
The University of Colorado and Denver University, for example, have second
teams that participate with us, but we don’t recognize them when we’re scoring our national championships.
SR: You probably know that several schools have folded their NCAA skiing
programs in recent years — Whitman College and Western State College,
among them. The University of Nevada Reno may soon do the same. Most
of these schools cite the economic burden of competing at the NCAA level as
a principal reason for having pulled the plug: is USCSA set up to handle the
current economic crisis any differently?
MS: Both Whitman and Western State continue to field teams, but they’re
with us now!
[The short answer to your question is yes, I think our members are in a
better position to handle the poor economy.] NCAA teams typically have to
travel a great deal more than USCSA teams. Take the University of Alaska,
which has to fly to every competition. That’s a tremendous economic burden
on small team — especially in this climate. Even schools in [a geographically
compact region like] the Northeast travel more: St. Lawrence University,
Bates College, and Williams College all race together on the NCAA circuit,
but as USCSA schools they’d be in three separate regions that support great
competition closer to home.
Let me add that the NCAA is a very large organization, an organization that
oversees Olympic-caliber events. Skiing is just a small piece of [the NCAA],
and I think sometimes skiing gets lost.
We’re a much smaller organization, obviously, and it allows us to be more
responsive to the needs of a ski team.
SR: What do you think the ski racing community most needs to know about
the USCSA and its mission?
MS: Our biggest goal is to be a key piece in the sunrise-to-sunset life of a
ski racer. There are many people who pick up racing — whether it be on a
NASTAR, high school, USSA, or FIS level — and then leave the sport [indefi-nitely] because of an experience that didn’t match their needs. That saddens
us, because usually that departure comes just before they would arrive on our
doorstep [in college] ... We’re fairly successful in bringing some of those people back to the sport, and many of our alumni keep racing after college by way
of U.S. Masters and corporate leagues. We’d like to see a more unified effort
to keep people in the sport from a very young age right up through a mature
age — by coaching, competing, or officiating. We think it’s really unfortunate
to lose people on the way, so we’re always trying to inspire a [lifelong love] of