SBD/June 29, 2012/Colleges

Pressure Of Financial Losses Force More Colleges To Consider Cutting Sports

Men's tennis is one of the sports being cut by the Univ. of Maryland
Athletic departments at “nine out of 10 public universities that compete in big-time sports spent more money than they generated last year -- and many are grappling with the question of whether dropping some sports is the solution,” according to a front-page piece by Liz Clarke of the WASHINGTON POST. The Univ. of Maryland’s athletic department will “proceed with plans to cut at least seven of its 27 varsity teams this weekend.” The downsizing is “an attempt to correct an unsustainable pattern many households know well: Spending more than you earn.” Clarke cited financial data and experts as indicating that unless “runaway spending is brought under control,” it is “only a matter of time before other schools are forced to follow Maryland’s lead.” Over the last five years, 205 varsity teams “have been dropped in NCAA Division I, the top ranks of college sports -- 133 for men, 72 for women.” Men’s tennis, gymnastics and wrestling have been “hit particularly hard.” But no major university has “cut as deeply as Maryland,” and some “point to its budget woes as a warning that the current model of college sports, marked by overzealous spending in pursuit of success in football and men’s basketball, is broken.” Texas, Ohio State and a “handful of other universities aren’t feeling the pain,” because their football teams are “so wildly successful they bankroll their entire athletics department -- and more.” But that is “the exception.”

MOUNTING PRESSURE: College sports reform advocacy group The Knight Commission reported that spending on sports is “rising at nearly twice the rate of spending on academics.” Coaching salaries and construction costs are “up dramatically.” Meanwhile, state appropriations for higher education “are declining, which heightens pressure on athletic departments to sell out venues and boost fundraising.” In this environment, a “downturn in ticket sales, coupled with a heavy debt burden, can be catastrophic.” At Maryland, those factors “converged in a perfect storm in recent years.” The school’s athletic department deficit, now $4.7M, "is projected to reach $17.6 million by 2017 if not addressed.” Coalition on Intercollegiate Athletics co-Chair John Nichols said, “The people who could and should be responsible for fixing what almost certainly is going to be a train wreck are either unwilling or unable to do it. Unless you assume that television money is a bottomless pit -- and there are no limits to the amount of money that television networks will invest -- there is going to be a day of reckoning” (WASHINGTON POST, 6/29).
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