Illustration: Jaclyn McRae-Sadik.
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Varsity open tryouts are slipping in effectiveness, so why are they still around?

Not so long ago in collegiate athletics, the bulk of players joining a team would be found via open tryouts.

These days, recruiting and year-to-year preparation has become much more common across all sports, particularly with the expansion of highlight reels from prospective athletes available on the Internet.

At the University of Ottawa, varsity tryouts—where any student can show up in the hopes of making the final roster—are in large part declining in popularity and effectiveness.

For sports like football and men’s basketball, which are the most heavily recuit-based teams at the U of O, a player making the team from open tryouts seems far fetched.

This is also the case in women’s basketball, where the team has expanded their recruiting reach across the nation, rendering open tryouts essentially useless.

Regardless of this, open tryouts for women’s basketball will take place on Sept. 7, and for head coach Andy Sparks the logic behind them has become weak.

“You’re finding now, in a lot of cases, having an open tryout doesn’t really make sense,” said Sparks, as he noted that the emphasis has focused on recruiting from junior leagues that attract top high school athletes.

“Most players have been funnelled out into the junior elite leagues. If the girls aren’t recruited from there, they know they’re probably not going to make it at that point.”

In women’s soccer, the team didn’t keep any players from open tryouts this season. However, according to women’s soccer head coach Steve Johnson, they can still hold some value for a top team.

“Sometimes open tryouts for us are an opportunity to see a player that we haven’t had a chance to scout,” said Johnson. “We’ve had players come in from open tryouts who’ve made the team and been captains.”

Johnson cited Noél Trepanier, a walk-on from early in his career as head coach, as an example of an open tryout success story.  Not only did Trepanier become a two-time All-Canadian and helped lead the Gee-Gees to a national championship in 1996, but she later went on to play for the Canadian national team.

Unfortunately, not all stories end like Trepanier’s did. Most times, the players attending open tryouts are just simply not prepared for the level of competition that varsity athletics demands.

“As the program goes up in stature, there are very few spots coming into the year,” said Sparks. “If they haven’t been playing for 10 years at least, then they probably haven’t put enough of the time in to play at this level.”

There’s a harsh reality to face for nearly everyone who grows up playing a sport they love. Not everyone is good enough to play at a high level, and for some, it takes being turned away from an open tryout to realize it.

Regardless, open tryouts will continue to exist for the foreseeable future, but whether Sports Services decides to cut them out for certain teams still remains to be seen.