In the spring of 1999, the softball team made its varsity debut after a concerted effort by two Barnard College students to elevate the team from club status. But while the team's win totals increased over the next few years, the number of Barnard student-athletes headed in the other direction.
Today, the softball team is one of five varsity women's teams without any student-athletes from Barnard, according to the rosters currently posted on the Columbia Athletics Web site. And despite the athletic opportunities afforded to Barnard students under the Columbia-Barnard Athletic Consortium, the college's participation rates in varsity athletics continue to decline.
According to numbers published by Barnard College Dean Dorothy Denburg in a letter to Spectator dated Sept. 28, 2004, about twice as many Barnard students played varsity sports in 1983-84, the first year of the Columbia-Barnard Athletic Consortium, than today.
In the Consortium's first year, 91 Barnard women competed on eight teams. That number fell to 68 on 10 teams in 1993-94, but Barnard women still constituted more than a third of the University's female varsity athletes.
As of last September, 67 Barnard women competed on 14 teams (22 percent of the female varsity student-athlete population). This year, that number has dropped to just 47 out of 327 female varsity student-athletes, or 14 percent, according to the current statistics posted on the Columbia Athletics Web site.
Denburg finds Barnard's lack of participation odd as well as frustrating, especially since Barnard pays 50 percent of the Consortium's operating costs.
"There's a Gordian knot in the Athletic Department that no one can seem to untie," she said.
Denburg also pointed out that the decline in athletic participation has occurred despite a steady increase in applications to Barnard over the last 20 years.
"Someplace there's a disconnect between what's happening in recruiting varsity athletes and what's happening in our admissions office," she said.
That disconnect is felt by other administrators at Barnard, too. Emily Buckley, Barnard's liaison to the Athletic Department and associate director of admissions, feels that the Athletic Department has not put forth a full effort to bring student-athletes to Barnard.
"We need to try our best on the recruiting because I do not think we're doing everything we can," she said.
Buckley has attempted to improve prospective student-athletes' knowledge of the Barnard option by giving coaches brochures about Barnard to mail to recruits. She has also instructed coaches to write letters to recruits explaining Barnard's role in the Consortium.
However, Buckley's efforts have not produced the desired results. Last year, only eight or nine of the 14 women's head coaches directly contacted her regarding recruits interested in applying to Barnard. Two other coaches told her they might have an interested recruit but never followed up. Three or four coaches never contacted her at all.
The distribution of Barnard student-athletes among the women's varsity teams shows a correlation with Buckley's experience regarding the lack of recruitment. Five teams-softball, volleyball, soccer, swimming, and lacrosse-do not have any Barnard student-athletes. These teams are also composed almost exclusively of recruits.
On the other hand, the crew and archery teams, both of which welcome walk-on athletes, have the highest percentages of Barnard student-athletes of any teams at Columbia. According to the current information posted on the Columbia Athletics Web site, 40 percent of the archery team (four of ten athletes) come from Barnard, as does 37 percent of the crew team (22 of 60 athletes).
The percentage of recruited athletes from Barnard, however, is low even within those teams. None of the archery team's three freshmen recruits attend Barnard, and just three of the 22 crew recruits do.
The lack of communication across Broadway begs the following question: are coaches following Buckley's advice? Their answer: yes.
All of the coaches interviewed for this article said they include brochures about Barnard and a letter explaining Barnard's role in the Consortium in their recruiting packets. Some, including lacrosse head coach Kerri Whitaker and field hockey head coach Katie Beach, also said that prospective recruits received a tour of both the Barnard and Columbia campuses. But no coach ascribed the lack of recruited athletes coming to Barnard to a failure in the recruiting process.
For Whitaker, the choice of Columbia or Barnard might come after considering a lot of other factors for prospective student-athletes when picking a college.
"Not only do we recruit them, they have to be academically viable and they have to pick Barnard," she said. Whitaker also noted that some prospective recruits interested in playing for her team and going to Barnard have chosen other schools.
However, the coaches do believe that some, even many, prospective recruits do not know that they can attend Barnard and play on Columbia teams until the coaches tell them about the Consortium.
"Some of [the recruits] are not familiar with the Consortium unless we feed them the information," Beach said.
Whitaker noted that some of her prospective recruits found the idea of the Consortium "a little confusing."
Women's crew coach Melanie Onufrieff added, "We have had kids who were attracted to Barnard who didn't previously know it existed."
The coaches' experiences indicate a lack of information in the general public regarding the Consortium, one that is likely creating a predisposition of female recruits toward Columbia College. Women's swimming head coach Diana Caskey believes this predisposition is likely the reason that she is not coaching any Barnard swimmers this season.
"It seems that most of the recruits are more interested in the Columbia College option," she said.
What might Columbia do to create more balanced participation in the Consortium? Director of Athletics and Physical Education Dr. M. Dianne Murphy sees no need to alter the Athletic Department's recruiting processes fundamentally.
"I don't think that there's a potential problem in recruiting," she said.
But Murphy did suggest that she might sit down with Barnard College President Judith Shapiro sometime in the future to discuss whether the Consortium still works as it should.
Denburg believes that with more Barnard athletes on each team, recruits interested in Barnard might be more likely to attend.
"Everyone would be happier if they could build a critical mass on each team," she said.