Brendan Bliss and Jono Gassman share a room with a sloping floor, a customized bathroom with shower stall, and a clothing rack for a closet.
There’s a TV and an Xbox at the foot of each bed, and a cereal box atop a small refrigerator next to the shower.
It’s a small space for two, but most dorm rooms at universities are smaller.
They aren’t in a dorm, though, and other rooms in the four-bedroom residence, officially an Airbnb, are smaller still. They have the “big” bedroom in the building unofficially known as the Umpqua Community College baseball house.
“It’s different living with eight guys,” Gassman said. “Some don’t clean and some do — we had to clean the whole house because no one will clean the house, but we’re getting through it.”
Midway through finals week of their freshman year, they’re getting ready for the holiday break. They have nine months before UCC will play a baseball game, so they’ve got time to figure out housekeeping duties even as they finish acclimating to making their own meals, doing their laundry and bonding with a new brotherhood.
“I knew we were going to be living with a lot of guys, i knew the house wouldn’t be clean all the time,” Bliss said about UCC’s answer for student-athlete housing. “I knew we were going to be living together and creating the foundation of this team that starts playing next year.”
As Umpqua has added sports to its athletic offerings — an enrollment initiative that brought 140 full-time students to the Winchester campus this fall — athletic director Craig Jackson has been active in solving the housing issue for those student-athletes. It’s meant getting creative and finding options that don’t occur to the average high school graduate.
UCC does not have on-campus housing — few community colleges do in Oregon — and Douglas County has one of the lowest rental vacancy rates in rural Oregon. That puts a premium on finding housing for students who are more and more often coming from outside the Roseburg area.
“The housing situation — not just for students — is a challenge because of the numbers and the price,” Jackson said. “For us, location is a big (concern), too. It’s difficult for them to be too far away because of how often they need to be on campus. We definitely need to be creative.”
City zoning codes influence some of the things Umpqua can do to help its athletes find housing. There are limits to the number of unrelated people that can occupy a residence and there are practical concerns, too.
“It’s different coming in from being in high school with everybody and then meeting a bunch of new guys,” Bliss said. “And then study and practice and get your stuff done. We’re getting through it. You work your butt off to get it done and get through it.”
The baseball house and wrestling house are a few doors apart on the same street near downtown Roseburg. That’s an attractive situation as it helps the athletes with both transportation and companionship. There are built-in peer groups and the opportunity to socialize with students from other sports (wrestler/outfielder Garrett Russell resides in the baseball house) and Jackson seeks opportunities to get the student-athletes to interact with each other on a regular basis.
“It’s a bond all right,” Gassman said. “You get woke up at 2 in the morning because everyone is downstairs listening to music and you come down and threaten to kill everyone. There’s a bond right there, but it’s fun. We wrestle it out.”
Jackson has also reached out to the community to find housing for athletes like Bliss and Gassman, who are from Albany and Medford, respectively.
While UCC is in Douglas County, it draws students from throughout the state and the west. Athletes come from a variety of locations, including Nevada, Utah, California, Hawaii and Idaho. When the school offered volleyball and men’s and women’s basketball, it often went with a more traditional housing option, with students finding apartments and signing leases. That has become harder and harder to do with the small rental turnover.
Umpqua is not ready to join Treasure Valley Community College and Southwestern Oregon Community College as a housing provider. TVCC in Ontario has on-campus dormitories, while SWOCC has similar apartment-style dorms on campus.
“Getting into the housing business as an institution is a whole other business and I’d like to avoid that as much as possible,” Jackson said. “I want to involve the community as much as possible. We’ve placed some of our kids downtown, which is nice because it exposes them to an area they wouldn’t otherwise be in.”
Some student-athletes have found homes with families looking to rent out a room, although that takes a special kind of landlord that understands the demands on an athlete’s time. Baseball players have 5 a.m. workouts and other athletes have 6 a.m. workouts; living as a group avoids the annoyance to families that may not want to be up at 4:30 and it helps ensure the athletes get from home to their workouts because there’s an automatic support system in place.
Finding apartments for 140 athletes as summer ends is a bigger challenge than the housing market can bear. Jackson said there are athletes living in Sutherlin and Winston, which is less than ideal but also a reality for what is primarily a commuter campus.
Having the ability to get them into air BnB settings has been a blessing, but as the population of both student-athletes and students continues to grow the school will have to find additional solutions.
“It’s (air BnB) a model that fits our student-athlete model,” Jackson said. “The traditional model is you sign a year-long lease, but that doesn’t fit many of our athletes. They come here for school and then go back home to work (in the summer), and are forced with keeping their lease or give it up and then do it all over again in the fall.
“The situations we have now, they are furnished. The landlord can be renting it until the day we move in; we’re paying from the day we move in to the day we move out.”
Each student-athlete is under a standard rental agreement with the property owner, they face the same expectations as any other renter in the community, plus they live with peers.
Not all of the living situations are team specific — some have mixed teams. Jackson has worked with housing issues at some of his previous posts.
“All of the schools I’ve been at we would go back and forth,” Jackson said. “It can be good to be with a non-athlete because it exposes you to another social circle, but at the same time there’s nothing worse than being a non-swimmer living with a swimmer because they get up at 4 in the morning every day to go swim for two hours. Managing that, figuring out that mix is a challenge.”
Unless there’s a major change in the housing and rental market, Umpqua will need to take on the residence issue as its student-athlete and regular student population grows. It’s already been a topic of discussion, and TVCC and SWOCC both offer an example of how the school can possibly deal with the challenge.
“We’ve talked about how institutionally it would be great to have some on-campus housing,” Jackson said. “It gives you people that are here all the time and utilize your services, the library services, the tutoring services, the cafeteria, all those things. That’s a group that’s here all the time and it brings so much to campus when you’re on campus.
“I would like at some point to see some on-campus housing, but in lieu of that we’re going to have to figure out something, because we have to be able to attract people from outside Douglas County to keep our numbers where we want them to be and to keep people in Douglas County here to learn.”