Paying for College

Sports Cuts

All over America college administrators, especially college "bean counters," are looking for ways to cut costs. All of a sudden, sports teams have become an inviting, slow-moving target. Maybe a good slogan for this budgetary campaign might be: Take a shortcut through sports cuts.

Tom Coyne, writing in an Associated Press news story, notes some specifics:

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — The Atlantic Coast Conference won't hold its baseball championship at Fenway Park next year, choosing a North Carolina venue over far-flung Boston. Michigan, Ohio State and Wisconsin aren't printing media guides. The Miami Hurricanes will be busing players to games.

As the recession drags on, many big schools are drawing attention for cutting sports outright — Washington expects to save $1.2 million by eliminating swimming, for example. But college athletic departments throughout the country also are taking smaller, less obvious steps to trim costs in the sluggish economy.

"You seldom find a silver bullet that saves you all the money you need," said Bob Bowlsby, the athletic director at Stanford, whose athletic endowment has dropped to $410 million from $520 million in the past three years.

"Instead you find a hundred areas where you save a little and you eat the elephant one bite at a time."

To that end, Cincinnati will no longer offer new scholarships for men's cross country, track and swimming, a move expected to save $400,000 a year.

Virginia Tech is asking its teams to try to travel no farther than two states away for non-conference games. Athletic director Jim Weaver said that's expected to save $50,000.

Miami will save about $140,000 by busing its football team to South Florida in Tampa and Central Florida in Orlando instead of flying.

Even Notre Dame, which has a lucrative deal with NBC to televise its football games, is asking its coaches in sports other than football to schedule games with opponents closer to home, athletic director Jack Swarbrick said. He said the football staff saved $20,000 from April 15 to May 31 by booking earlier and less convenient flights.

State schools are facing budget reductions handed down by lawmakers while private schools' endowments are shrinking. Both are dealing with dwindling contributions.

It all runs counter to a culture of ever-more resources being devoted to college sports. In May, the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics said declining athletics revenues have been unable to keep up with a "runaway train of spending."

In the five-year period through 2008, only 18 of 119 Division I athletic departments operated in the black, according to preliminary numbers compiled by Dan Fulks, an accounting professor at Transylvania University in Lexington, Ky., who has been an NCAA consultant for 20 years. Those numbers were before the economic downturn.

"What we're seeing is that schools that are making money are typically making more money and schools that are losing money are losing more money," Fulks said. "The gaps between the haves and have-nots has been getting wider. Over a 10-year period that's been pretty consistent."

UNLV plans to save about $50,000 by doing away with some chartered flights for its football and basketball teams and instead will fly commercial. UNLV also plans to save $75,000 by not providing primary insurance to walk-ons and another $10,000 in lighting costs and staff overtime by scheduling more daytime practices and games.

The Big 12 has eliminated the majority of its coaches' meetings and instead will hold them via teleconference, saving schools the travel costs, Big 12 spokesman Bob Burda said.

At least eight schools, including Michigan, Ohio State and Wisconsin, are doing away with printed media guides, expensive tomes that can reach hundreds of pages and are filled with glossy pictures and graphics.

The Pac-10 has proposed NCAA legislation that would ban printed media in all sports, and is calling for a ban on international tours for teams and on schools paying for football teams to stay at hotels the night before home games.

Officials at many schools say they expect the struggles to continue until the economy turns around.

"I have confidence that it eventually will, but it's going to be a while," said Bowlsby, the Stanford athletic director. "There's no doubt about that."

What does this mean to aspiring college athletes? Well, if you are a gifted athlete looking to use your prowess as a hook for an admission advantage, you had better check out the specific sports team situation at your candidate colleges before you commit to applying with hopes of getting athletic scholarship consideration or a walk-on slot.

Need more convincing? Here's part of another view:

Nicholls State University's Brooke Braun starred on the Colonels' golf team as a freshman this year and thought she was in a “perfect" situation.

Then Nicholls suspended its women's golf team this spring because of state budget cuts to colleges. Braun found herself losing her scholarship.

“I teared up a lot," said Braun, 19. “I felt, 'How could this happen?' No one asked for this. I was hurt."

But Braun, a Metairie native, said she took a “glass-is-half-full" approach. With the aid of her coach, she said she is transferring to the University of Central Arkansas on a golf scholarship.

Southern University, Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond and Nicholls State University in Thibodaux are among the schools that have already suspended one or more teams because of budget cuts this year.

The University of New Orleans is eliminating all state funding for athletics. The recession and budget cuts are putting stress on the state's college athletics programs.

About $40 million in state funds went to college athletics per year before the budget slicing. More than $30 million of the total was used by the eight schools in the University of Louisiana System . . .

So, look before you leap into a college application based on sports talent. Also, be sure to make contact with the college coach to see if s/he has any insights about pending cuts for the future, although you may have a hard time getting at the truth, since coaches are famous for glossing over small details such as the imminent demise of their team.

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