Monday, May 11, 2009

A Band-Aid of Common Sense

Anyone who follows my blog knows that I have problems with college sports spending. I picture the NCAA as a snake chasing its tail, spiraling up a large pile of money, wiping out Olympic sports with every turn on it‘s way up. Administrators seem to feel that it is okay to spend the money on football and basketball when it is there, but it is not okay to take the money from them when they are no longer bringing it in. Cuts across the board seem to be out of the question, when it is so much easier to cut an entire program. Thus swimmers, wrestlers, gymnasts and even track & field athletes are becoming a dying breed.

The NCAA is supposed to be about creating opportunities for student-athletes through sports. It has now become about generating revenue… which causes athletic and academic ideals to be cast aside pretty quickly. Sure, Title IX has complicated things, but it is in no way to blame for our woes. The modern landscape of sports has changed. We are recruiting entertainers rather than athletes. If it were about athletics swimming, wrestling and track would be premier sports. John Kruk said it best: “Lady, I’m not an athlete, I’m a ballplayer.”

I think the problem would be easy to solve. Here’s what I propose… how about the NCAA does something to really promote equity? We can eliminate the difference between the have’s and have-nots within the NCAA structure. It’s simple, really. Put a cap on spending. Easy-peasy. For fairness sake we have a cap on the number of scholarships offered for each sport, right? Why not a cap on coaches’ salaries? Why not a cap on recruiting budgets? Why not a cap on extravagances? Why not a limit on the way coaching contracts can be written to eliminate multi-million dollar firings? Even professional sports have salary caps. It can’t be that hard to make it work.

NCAA president Myles Brand is obviously on board…
“One of the things we have to worry about is competitive equity…If some schools have too small a budget, it could affect their play, and that isn’t fair.”

Well, Mr. Brand, hadn’t we reached that point before the economy ever took a down-turn? Come on… isn’t the entire BCS system based on that inequity? The gap between the haves and have-nots is only going to get bigger in our poor economy. Isn’t it time to apply a bandage of common sense, rather than forcing schools to amputate perfectly good limbs?

We have all heard the stories about frivolous spending. Even at mid-major schools, football and basketball squads routinely stay in hotel rooms on the night before home games to eliminate distractions. Recruits are staying in five star hotels with room service and more. I can’t confirm it, but I have heard from a friend on campus that Arkansas (who cut men’s swimming in 1993 by the way) has taken the taper game to new extreme with the purchase of segway’s so that their athletes can conserve leg strength on game days. And how many big screen plasma tv's do you need in a locker room anyway?

I once had a lab partner in a chem class in college who explained to me that he had a full ride as a practice player for football. My swim team at the time had only 4.9 scholarships (in division 1 which allows 9.9 for men.) We had an Olympian on the squad with half-tuition. When he told me that he has a friend on the basketball team who stays in a hotel the night before games and gets a catered meal or two before they play every game, no one on my team believed it. Just think, I lost 13 pounds over Christmas training my junior year of college because my school bought us one meal every other day and gave us $25 to cover our meals for the rest of the three week break. 24,000 yards a day on two 99 cent whoppers and a coke because it was all I could afford. Yeah… I really loved swimming. Way more than I loved money, or even food. I swam competitively for 15 years and was never once given a locker without paying a rental fee.

Here’s an excerpt from an article at AZCentral that confirms the hotel thing is really happening. I am not just going by what my lab partner was telling me:

At some schools, there's even talk of scrapping the longtime - and expensive - practice of quartering football teams at a local hotel on the night before home games. Coaches have long insisted they need to sequester their players to avoid "distractions" - an argument that may carry little weight in these times.
"We talk about things like reducing the size of travel squads and giving the student-athletes less-expensive gifts at the championships," Stanford athletic director Bob Bowlsby said. "But at the same time we're talking about all that, we're spending enough on lodging Friday nights before home football games to pay for two to three non-revenue sports a year on a lot of campuses. It's not a small expense item."

Swimming had better find a new system. The NCAA is deserting us. We are not pulling our weight financially, and apparently that is all that matters.

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