Dan Sharadin, commissioner and executive director of the Collegiate Water Polo Association (CWPA) since 1990, may just be the most influential person in American water polo. Overseeing the country’s largest water polo conference — the CWPA encompasses 27 varsity and more than 200 club polo programs at colleges and universities throughout the United States —Sharadin is directly connected to more intercollegiate programs than any other single individual in the country.
He also oversees American Water Polo (AWP), an age-group association that organizes competitive play throughout the country for thousands of athletes ages 10 to 18; outside of USA Water Polo, AWP is the largest youth polo association in America.
A native of Pennsylvania who swam and played water polo for Methacton High School, Sharadin played club polo for the University of West Virginia. Following his graduation from Morgantown in 1981 with an MBA , he founded Young Athletes of America (YAA), which launched his career in organizing youth and collegiate polo. Head coach for Villanova University’s men’s water polo team since 1983, Sharadin also served as the Director of Collegiate and Senior Programs at US Water Polo in the late 90s, where he greatly increased collegiate participation in the sport, a role that he has continued in with the CWPA. Fully 80% of all collegiate contests in American are played under the auspices of the Collegiate Water Polo Association.
Commissioner Sharadin responded by email to questions posed by Total Waterpolo contributor Michael Randazzo regarding changes in the CWPA men’s bracket, the recent NCAA men’s water polo tournament, and the future of the sport on the East Coast.
Michael Randazzo: The Collegiate Water Polo Association men’s varsity bracket has undergone tremendous change the past six months, culminating in the creation of separate conferences — the Northeast Water Polo Conference and the Mid-Atlantic Water Polo Conference — for the CWPA’s 19 teams. Now that the CWPA has completed its first season under the new structure, how do you view this change? Has the new structure worked as you had hoped and / or expected?
Dan Sharadin: I think the change has been very beneficial for everyone. Instead of one team declared champion, we now have the opportunity to award three different teams as conference winners (including the Mid Atlantic West). This gives more student-athletes the opportunity to gain a title. As to whether it worked as expected, we knew it was going to provide more competitive equity, which at the end of the day is what makes a conference healthy. Teams need to know they have a chance to win when the season begins, and this new alignment made that possible. Regarding the opportunity to make the Final Four, that obviously changed since the initial discussion began about realignment. We would still like to see a scenario that provides our conference with an avenue directly there, but that is unlikely in the current structure.
Randazzo: There was a chain reaction in men’s varsity polo resulting from the Golden Coast Conference’s creation from six teams leaving the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation. The GCC was left out in the cold in this year’s NCAA tournament — while the MPSF received three spots. How do you interpret this chain of events?
Sharadin: Nothing changed from the Gold Coast’s perspective since they knew they had to sit out this year. As to the MPSF obtaining an AQ, my understanding is that they met the NCAA criteria for a waiver at least for another season with Penn State [Behrend] joining their conference.
Randazzo: Will all the change ultimately benefit men’s varsity polo? If so, (or not) why?
Sharadin: If you are referring to the change that involved our realignment, the answer is emphatically yes. I can’t stress enough how important it is to have alignments that allow for the greatest number of teams to be in contention for their conference championship. The new alignment moved us much closer to that goal.
Randazzo: For decades one of the highlights of the season for men’s varsity programs in the East was the CWPA Championship. Not only were Easterns a fantastic opportunity to view the breadth of the region’s collegiate programs, a single champion from the East was crowned. Now this is gone, with two much smaller regional tournaments to determine champions in the NWPC and MAWPC. How have you responded to the surprise and disappointment regarding the demise of the Easterns format?
Sharadin: I would echo what I stated earlier. More opportunity to win a championship is a positive development. Some of the strongest and healthiest conferences in the country have 7-10 teams. We had double that amount vying for one title. Our current structure is much better than in the past.
Randazzo: What were some things that surprised you about the season’s play in the two new conferences?
Sharadin: While I would not say it is a surprise since each of their programs were showing improvement over the last few seasons, one thing that was different this season was the crowning of two new champions (Bucknell and Harvard), one of which for the first time in their history. Likewise, Connecticut getting to the finals against Mercyhurst (Mid Atlantic West) showed they can compete in the new alignment with anyone.
Randazzo: You had two new teams in the East that had very different experiences. Wagner College’s new men’s team had a remarkable season, winning 10 games, including two wins over Navy and a triumph over NYC rival #20 St. Francis, Brooklyn. LaSalle University’s team struggled in its first season in the MAWPC West Region, winning only three times as it builds its roster / reputation. How are these two new teams / their experience representative of the future for East Coast water polo?
Sharadin: You are really comparing apples to oranges. Wagner had hired their coach and given him a year to recruit. La Salle announced their intent to start a program in the spring and hired Paul Macht after most schools had closed their admissions process. Quite frankly, I was incredibly impressed with the level they achieved given their circumstances. I think both programs have excellent coaches and will do a good job in the coming years.
Randazzo: The CWPA is the largest polo conference in the country, making you perhaps the single most influential person in the sport on the intercollegiate level. The CWPA has a board, and are appointing a new league president, Mark Gensheimer, currently on the organization’s Board of Directors, but — as they say — you ARE the man.
How do you manage all this responsibility? And, is there a possibility of another person or people, that will be brought in to assist you / CWPA staff on managing an entity that is responsible for the long-term health of water polo in the US?
Sharadin: First of all, I think you overstate my influence and role quite a bit. There are so many incredible people working in the sport, beginning with folks like Brian Streeter who serves as Secretary Rules Editor. Brian had to take over from an icon in the sport after Barbara Kalbus retired and has not missed a beat. He is in such a thankless position and does it with a smile on his face every time I speak to him. Another one is Bob Corb as NCAA coordinator of Officials. Bob has done an outstanding job helping officiating in water polo become consistent throughout the country. His efforts along with Ed Reed, our own Coordinator of Officials, have made an amazing difference in the quality of referees that step on deck today and specifically within our conference.
As to managing the responsibilities within our conference, I subscribe to the concept of surrounding yourself with people more capable than you are and then releasing them to do their jobs. I really believe we have some of the best staff in the country, starting with Ed Haas as Communications Director, who manages all things related to social media, the website, and our communications with the outside world. Helping share some of the workload I face on a daily basis was the reason for our most recent hire in Tom Tracey. Tom’s level of competence and familiarity with the sport has enabled me to focus on the development of new teams, along with some other projects.
Katie Wieber in Membership Services does a phenomenal job handling travel, awards, hotels, and support for our teams, while Jon Weaver, our Multimedia Director has begun to take our broadcast program to a new level. Our long-term goal is to have every CWPA game broadcasted, regardless of location and Jon is the guy to make that happen. The key for us as we grow is to expand our internship program. This creates a win-win, where students gain great work experience in the field and we gain additional staff support without breaking the bank. That will be one of the key areas we will be focusing on in the coming year.
Randazzo: I’m sure you’ve heard concerns about you overseeing two conferences; do you anticipate changes in the administration of the NWPC and MAWPC?
Sharadin: In reality, nothing has changed from an administrative standpoint. We still have basically the same number of teams and games played. It just happens to be under different names. About the only difference is a slight increase in our budget as we order more awards and pay a second set of NCAA dues each year.
Randazzo: Which additional schools, if any, are you targeting to move to varsity status? What, if any, progress has CWPA made in his regard? Is there an unofficial “formula” for potential targets (i.e., schools with no football; non-Division I schools; programs under threat of Title IX sanction…)?
Sharadin: There are a number of schools we are reaching out to at the present time, but it is too early to make any announcements. In any case, we would never preempt a school in that regard, so you will need to hear from them first. Hiring Tom Tracey as Assistant Commissioner was a key step in freeing up more of my time for this task and I am hopeful it will produce some positive results. Target schools are those that are tuition driven, where the addition of a sport makes financial sense.
Randazzo: For the first time in decades, a player from the East (Thomas Dunstan) qualified for the US Men’s National Team Olympic roster. How is the CWPA working to create the conditions for deserving men and women on this coast to continue gaining access to Team USA?
Sharadin: As a collegiate conference, our impact extends to collegiate athletes. The best thing we can do is to create a competitive environment in which quality student-athletes want to attend CWPA institutions and in doing so continue to improve to the point where they can contribute at the highest level.