… Institutions facing fat deficits have risked the wrath of students, parents and alumni and cut scholarships and teams. The University of Cincinnati wiped out scholarships for three men’s sports: track, cross-country and swimming. Stanford University told its fencing teams to look for other financing.
The University of Massachusetts dropped its ski teams, and Kutztown University in Pennsylvania eliminated its men’s soccer and men’s swimming teams. On Friday, the University of Washington said it would cut its swimming teams to save as much as $1.2 million, less than half of the spending that the athletic department needs to reduce.
… Some programs are so wealthy that they subsidize entire athletic departments. In the 2007-8 season, the Southeastern Conference distributed an average of $5.3 million in football and basketball television revenue to each of its 12 members. In August, the SEC signed 15-year television contracts with ESPN and CBS that will generate even more money.
… The Ohio Valley Conference, which includes 11 universities in Alabama, Illinois, Kentucky, Missouri and Tennessee, is not so fortunate. It reduced the number of teams that play in conference championship tournaments to six, eliminated media days before the football and basketball seasons (instead conducting news conferences online), and stopped printing media guides.
Last week, the Arkansas athletic department said it would spend $1 million to help the university avoid increasing tuition.
… At Lehigh, which has 25 varsity sports and competes in the Patriot League, athletes on the volleyball, field hockey and soccer teams will return to campus only a few days before dormitories open, instead of a full week. The change will save the athletic department about $20,000 in room and board.
Joe Sterrett, Lehigh’s athletic director, trimmed $250,000 from his budget. He said he was also concerned about a potential decline in the number of athletes who attend the university’s sports camps, which bring in as much as $900,000 each summer.
“You have to look for ways to squeeze,” he said.
… In December, the athletic department at South Carolina agreed to steer $1 million of its television revenue back to the university.
“There’s no doubt that most if not all our institutions are experiencing budget issues with their state legislatures,” said Mike Slive, the commissioner of the SEC. “To the extent that our athletic departments can assist, they’ve done that.”
Notice a pattern here? Miles Brand does.
… Taken together, the cuts could deeply alter the college sports landscape. The gap will widen between the haves with television and sponsorship deals, and the have-nots that rely mostly on alumni and their universities for financing.
“One of the things we have to worry about is competitive equity,” said Myles Brand, the president of the N.C.A.A. “If some schools have too small a budget, it could affect their play, and that isn’t fair.”
Ah, good old fashioned fairness. It’s not fair that the SEC has more impassioned fans than does the Patriot League.
Here’s my paranoid scenario, which isn’t nearly as far-fetched as you’d like to believe: as we watch the BCS/playoff debate unfold in Washington, mark the point when the folks from Utah whining about wanting their team to have a chance have their voices replaced in the debate with calls for a more socially just solution. Throw in a dollop of Title IX concerns, as well. That’s when things can change.
So, while Mike Hugenin is right when he notes this:
Second, during Friday’s hearing, Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson said, “Many have said the current BCS system ensures a permanent underclass. They are right.” Indeed, that is right: Compared to USC, Florida, Michigan, Texas, Penn State and the like, the Wyomings, Louisiana-Lafayettes, Eastern Michigans and New Mexico States of the world aren’t equal. And the Mountain West and the Sun Belt and the Mid-American are not equal to the SEC and Pac-10 and Big Ten. That’s not communism; that’s reality. That’s also the marketplace: For whatever reason, more people would rather watch USC-Ohio State than San Jose State-Ohio University.
And that leads into point three. The BCS is in place to match No. 1 vs. No. 2 – whoever they are. The BCS is not in place to give the team ranked fifth a chance for the national title; that would necessitate a playoff, which the vast majority of university presidents have said – repeatedly – that they’re against. Indeed, it’s better than even money that if university presidents were asked to vote between a playoff and a return to the “old days” – i.e., before the BCS – they would overwhelmingly vote to return to the “old days.” What that would mean, of course, is that the major conferences would be just fine, while the likes of the Mountain West and Western Athletic again would be fighting over crumbs.
… that’s in the here and now. Things can migrate from there. The real club the Feds have is the money they toss to higher education. The carrot they have is an antitrust exemption for the NCAA. Don’t believe for a second that in the right hands those can’t be wielded effectively. Money changes everything.
The funny part to this will be the reactions from the useful idiots like Barton and Hatch when it dawns on them that they’ve been preempted. That will almost make up for how much the end result is likely to suck for college football fans.