Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Where There's Smoke

The signs started percolating along the horizon of college athletics about two decades ago.  Minor sports like cross country, track and wrestling started disappearing from various campuses.  The common denominator was that they were men's sports.  The critics howled that Title 9, a federal law aimed at giving women an equal playing field when it came to athletics, was forcing athletic departments to make difficult budget decisions.

The problem has only gotten worse in recent years.  Athletic directors target men's sports with a vengeance in order to keep costs down and to stay in line with the scholarship quotas demanded by Title 9.  I've always found this issue a bit of a red herring.  I believe we're beginning to see just how troubled the ponzi scheme that is college athletics.

One just shrugs their shoulders when Cal Berkley talks about cutting sports because of the financial crisis.  They're just a bunch of goofy liberals, right?  But when Stanford, a private institution with very rich alums begins talking about it, there's more than just smoke.  I hate the thought of colleges cutting athletic programs.  I hate thinking about it even more so at the high school level.  But it's time for everyone to wake up and face the fact that money needs to go to improve our system of education, not to help keep a Division I powerhouse afloat.

I look at the Big 12 conference and its a veritable arms race.  The amount of money going into new stadiums, indoor training centers, and practice facilities is staggering.  The salaries of the coaches are obscene.  And regardless of how much the alumni give to their favorite team, most of these schools are subsidized in one way or the other through student fees and other state handouts.

I shudder when I see a Florida high school football team traveling to California to play another team.  WTF?!?  I wonder if it's really necessary for a JUCO team to travel halfway across the country for a contest when there are plenty of opportunities to get competition in their own neck of the woods?  I'm not suggesting that we gore the sacred cows of DI football and basketball but couldn't the gridiron boys get by with just 60 scholarships and an even dozen for the hoops team and about half the number of coaches?

We all know the priorities at most colleges regarding athletics is out of whack and it looks like the high schools are climbing on board thanks to ESPN.  I'm praying that the budget squeeze starts kicking some sense into college and high school administrators when it comes to athletics.  I don't want to see anymore track programs shutdown or swim teams sent out to sea, but that's where we're headed.

We need some sanity.  But it's not going to happen when athletic directors by and large are the tail wagging the dog.  College presidents lack the guts or the ability to reign it in and the howls of the alumni would be so nightmarish that I don't blame them.

The smoke is there folks, let's fire doesn't gut your favorite Olympic sport.

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