Some colleges are 'using pandemic as an excuse' to eliminate athletics programs

SpaceRaider

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Jul 22, 2001
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Some colleges are 'using pandemic as an excuse' to eliminate athletics programs

...Ridpath said he believes a recent maneuver from commissioners of five mid-major conferences, which failed, was an attempt to undermine nonrevenue sports.

The Division I Council of the NCAA last month rejected the commissioners' request for a years-long waiver to an NCAA bylaw that requires schools to sponsor a minimum of 16 sports programs to maintain their Division I status (colleges can still apply for independent waivers).

“I thought it was a crass thing for conferences to ask,” Ridpath said. “They were asking for temporary relief. Everyone knows once those sports are gone, they’re gone. They were looking for an easy way out instead of addressing the fat. The easy way out is let’s get rid of these sports and try to preserve the excess in football and men’s basketball. Thankfully, that (appeal) was turned down. It still doesn’t help if schools are above the minimum (with latitude to cut sports).”

Ron Mitchelson, the interim chancellor at East Carolina University, said his school's decision to eliminate four sports – men's and women's tennis and men's and women's swimming and diving – resulted from a deliberate review and in-depth analysis of the athletics department’s budgets and programs.

“The current athletics budget was not sustainable pre-COVID-19 and the university was working closely with athletics to decrease the annual deficit over the next year," he said in a statement. "With the pandemic, the deficit began to grow significantly where the impact was immediate and will affect future revenue and expenses for years to come. Ultimately, the reduction of sports aligns ECU with our American Athletic Conference peers and provides a roadmap to a more sustainable future for the University and athletics."

In addition to eliminating four sports – the most any college has cut thus far – East Carolina trimmed athletics operations. The school reduced its sports budget by regionalizing scheduling and travel for select sports, eliminating several positions that are currently vacant, limiting summer school for student-athletes and suspending all professional development conferences for a minimum of one year.

The moves are expected to save the school an estimated $4.9 million.

The Drake Group, whose mission is to defend academic integrity in higher education from the corrosive aspects of commercialized college sports, encourages a “students-first” approach during the pandemic.

The organization urges schools to retain all sports, maintain scholarship commitments and maintain operating costs for direct student-athlete services such as athletic training, insurance, medical expenses and academic support.

Ridpath said he believes college athletics departments and the leagues with which they are affiliated must become creative in devising ways to keep alive sports programs.

Ridpath praised the Mid-American Conference, of which Ohio University, where he teaches, is a member, for issuing a league-wide mandate prohibiting the conference’s home football teams from staying in hotels on the eve of games. Ridpath said he believed the measure will save his college’s athletics department approximately $60,000.according to USA TODAY, defended the practice. He said such overnight stays eliminate distractions in a college town for upperclassmen, who are spread out across the city in private housing, including large apartment complexes that often have loud, late-night parties.

The Mid-American Conference introduced other cost-cutting measures this month, announcing it has eliminated several postseason conference tournaments and overhauled the postseason for men's and women's basketball.

Such moves will save thousands of dollars per institution, but some conference member schools are facing multi-million dollar budget deficits.

Akron Athletics Director Larry Williams said the university's decision to cut three sports will save the school approximately $4.4 million, which accounts for 23 percent of the college's financial support of the athletics department.

Bowling Green State University said in a release eliminating its baseball program will save the athletics department approximately $500,000 annually, helping to offset a $2 million budget deficit.

The elimination of Central Michigan's men's indoor and outdoor track and field programs will help the school recoup a projected $628,000 per year.

According to the Green Bay Press-Gazette, Wisconsin-Green Bay is indefinitely suspending its men’s and women’s tennis programs, saving the school $230,000 annually in operating costs and scholarships.

“We’re not seeing real leadership," Ridpath said in reference to some of the schools that are eliminating sports. “Desperate times call for desperate measures.”

Those measures, he said, should not yet call for eliminating programs.
 

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