Bigger is always better. The more you spend, the more successful you’ll be. These phrases sound great to any campus rec programmer, but to many, staffing and budgetary limitations often restrict the scope of programming.
However, bigger and more expensive does not guarantee student satisfaction. High-quality, well-conceived smaller scale programming can deliver student satisfaction and help draw new participants to a campus rec program.
Initially you will need to assess what challenges your department may face with regards to programming. Is the size of your professional and/or student staff small and already stretched thin? Are programming budgets tight? In this post-COVID era, especially at smaller institutions, funding may not be what it once was.
Whether you are short-staffed, facing limited budgets or both, you can still look to enhance your programming with options that are low cost and low impact in terms of man power. Here are some general considerations to factor into what may work for your department:
- Can you afford to budget for a one-time investment in relatively low-cost equipment you can use annually for new programming?
- Do you have underutilized facilities that lend themselves to new program opportunities?
- Can you cultivate relationships with campus partners such as dining services or the campus store and local businesses in order to solicit prize donations for your new events? If not, a coveted intramural champion T-shirt is still a desirable prize.
Once you have considered these questions, you can begin to contemplate which types of lower-maintenance, high-satisfaction programs are realistic for you to implement. Here are some ideas for programs you can add that can be implemented at a low cost and without the need for a large amount of staff dedicated to them:
Self-reported and Self-regulated Intramural Tournaments
Organizing a league or tournament is one thing. Having to staff it with officials, scorekeepers and supervisors is a greater undertaking. Self-reported and self-regulated tournaments allow for plenty of competitive action for students without all of the support staff.
In these types of tournaments or leagues, your department will organize the event and supply the rules, but then the responsibility of agreeing to a scheduled time to play before a preset deadline and reporting the results falls to the student competitors. Other than possible assistance with reserving a facility, if it is not blocked off in advance by your department then the students are on their own to complete each round.
Tournament brackets will guide the players through until a champion is crowned. Self-reported/self-regulated tournaments or leagues work well in a variety of sports, including tennis, racquetball, pickleball, wallyball, table tennis, foosball and air hockey.
Your department may already own some of this equipment or you can make an investment in what you need at a responsible cost. These types of games lend themselves to self-regulated/self-reported tournaments or can be overseen by one to two staff members. Corn hole, horseshoes, Spikeball and lawn bocce are all great examples of fun games students enjoy playing.
For the sake of tournament play, you would want at least two sets of any lawn game you decide to play, but the investment would still only range from $100 to $250 for quality equipment, which if properly cared for can last for several school years.
Campuses may be introducing lavish and expensive esports facilities, but keeping it simple is still a sound plan for affordable, lower- maintenance programming. As long as you have access to a large-screen television, gaming console and some games, your program can sponsor intramural esports tournaments and leagues.
Once again, these can be conducive to the self-regulated/self-reported, but even just having one staff member on hand to keep play coordinated and safeguard the equipment works well. Sports-based games like Madden, NBA2K and FIFA to Mario Kart and Super Smash Bros all work well for tournament play.
And if esports is not your thing, don’t shy away from old school board and card games. You just might be surprised with the student turnout for chess, Battleship or Uno. And these games certainly are not very expensive to invest in either.
March (or Any Time of Year) Hoops Madness
As long as you have access to basketball courts, you can host a variety of lower-maintenance programs. Shooting contests are easy to implement and can vary from free throw shooting to three-point shooting and hot shot-style formats. These are fun one-off options to host in March when the collegiate world is engulfed by March Madness.
Fitness Challenges and Competitions
Gen Z students seem to flock to “challenge” videos on Tik Tok and other social media, so why not draw them into your programming with fitness challenges? These types of activities require minimal staffing, can rely on competitors self-reporting their results through a technology-based verification method and do not need expensive prizes to be appealing to students. Using recognition boards in your fitness areas or the digital screens within your facility to promote challenge winners or top performers is a fun way to reward participants.
Challenges can utilize cardio equipment ranging from treadmills to step climbers to rowers for a variety of easy to implement activities. And these activities can be customized to fit your geographic location, such as “Climb the Empire State Building” or “Row Across Lake Michigan.”
Fitness competitions are also great ways to engage students. A small, properly trained staff can implement weight lifting competitions with weight classes that are one-day standalone events or take place in specific time slots across several days.
You don’t always need to spend a lot of money on bus rentals or overnight excursions to offer fun and appealing off-campus experiences to your students. Affordable and accessible options likely exist in close proximity to your campus. These programs can be designed with limited transportation if you have access to a university-owned van or two. But taking advantage of off-campus university shuttles or informing students they have to provide their own transportation are also viable options.
It is helpful if your department can help offset the cost of off-campus experiences, but if not, the entire cost can be passed along to the students. Many businesses are willing to negotiate special group pricing with colleges, so exploring discounted fees — especially during a business’s underutilized times — is an option. The scope of the experiences you can offer will be dictated by the options in reasonably close proximity to your campus. Undoubtedly you should be able to find something that is entertaining and in some instances, lends itself well to an intramural tournament format.
Popular options for these excursions include bowling, pool, miniature golf, ax throwing, roller or ice skating, laser tag, escape rooms, esports, etc. In some cases, you could create a weekly off-campus intramural league for sports such as bowling, pool, or even certain esports if a facility is close enough to your campus and wants to be regular partner with you.
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