Sean Williams knows what it’s like to be unknown.
“I’ll have my hockey T-shirt on or something like that,” Williams said, “and people will (ask), ‘We have hockey in Florida?’ And (I say), ‘Yeah, and there’s actually a team at USF.'”
Williams is a forward and team captain of the USF IceBulls, the men’s ice hockey club celebrating its 20th year of existence and eyeing a national title. The last – and only – title the team has ever won was during the 1992-93 season.
Success aside, few people know the club sport even exists.
“I would say just by the sheer size of the campus and the proportion of support, I’d say that’s true,” said coach Kevin Castine, who is in his fourth season with the IceBulls. “We would definitely love to have more student body support.”
The IceBulls normally play their games at the Ice Sports Forum in Brandon on weekend nights at 9:30. USF will play its next game, however, against rival Florida Institute of Technology at the St. Pete Times Forum in downtown Tampa on Saturday at 1 p.m. All games are broadcast by WBUL 1620 AM, and admission is free with valid USF student ID. The IceBulls have 10 games remaining in the regular season, which ends Feb. 17.
Despite being a club sport and unsupported by USF athletics, the players say they are still Bulls and carry the same sense of pride as any student athlete.
“(We) are still recognized as a club sport, (which is) a little bit discouraging sometimes,” IceBulls player and Student Government’s Student Life and Development coordinator Greg Morgan said. “But (we’re) still playing under the University of South Florida. (We’re) still playing for the pride of (our) college.”
The IceBulls are not a member of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). As a result, no players get scholarships for playing, nor does the team receive funding from USF athletics.
But the team still finds financial support.
“We get a lot of our funding from Student Government,” Morgan said. “But we pay for a lot of our stuff out of our pocket, too.”
It turns out the club has to pay to play. No equipment or transportation is provided, and the cost of renting the rink is $300 per hour. Some of the funding comes from SG and Academic Consulting Services money that appears every semester on a student’s tuition bill, but the club does a lot of independent fundraising as well.
The club competes competitively on an intercollegiate level in a smaller, lesser-known hockey association.
“We’re Division III, ACHA (American Collegiate Hockey Association), which obviously has a lot of smaller teams,” Morgan said.
USF does play other large universities in ice hockey, however. On Saturday, the IceBulls defeated the Florida Gators 8-3. Last week, undefeated Georgia Tech narrowly defeated USF 6-5.
The ACHA is broken down into four divisions: the North, Atlantic, Pacific and South. The IceBulls, at 5-2, are second in the South Division with 10 points.
“To my knowledge, we went to the national tournament three times,” Morgan said. “Two times we were runner-up in the national championship … and we look forward to playing in the national championship again this year.”
The IceBulls are ineligible to compete in the NCAA because of Title IX. Title IX, part of the Education Amendments of 1972, prohibits high schools and universities from offering more sports for one sex over the other – meaning every institution must offer an equal number of men’s and women’s sports. Because of this, the IceBulls are not recognized or funded by USF athletics.
The IceBulls do not have the privilege of using the USF athletic facilities, either.
“We can’t have trainers (or) have access to the Athletic Facility,” Morgan said. “Whatever your regular student has access to, we have access to – nothing special.”
The IceBulls only attracted about 400 people to their last game against Florida, but they would like to see more supporters.
“(I’d like to see) a thousand,” Castine said. “Fill the rink. The fans are just as important to the game. It adds to the intensity of the game. The more, the merrier.”
Williams agreed with his coach’s wish.
“In the case of hockey, (the crowd) is our seventh player,” Williams said. “The more people you have out there, the more hyped up you are.”
Morgan wishes to send one message out to the student body.
“Come out to one game,” he said, “and I guarantee you’ll love it.”