Competitive Sustainability: As College Football Forges Ahead, Schools Must Make Decisions about Other Programs

By Elfman, Lois | Diverse Issues in Higher Education, January 17, 2013 | Go to article overview

Competitive Sustainability: As College Football Forges Ahead, Schools Must Make Decisions about Other Programs


Elfman, Lois, Diverse Issues in Higher Education


Football's dominance in the landscape of collegiate athletics has taken center stage in recent months as multiple universities have changed conferences, with Rutgers and Maryland joining the Big Ten, Missouri and Texas A&M moving to the SEC and Louisville heading to the ACC. Traditional rivalries have been discarded, geographic boundaries redefined, friendships and professional relationships frayed and the gap between the top five conferences and the rest of Division I widened to the point where the question keeps arising as to whether the top 60 to 70 schools will leave the NCAA or demand their own division within it.

Athletic directors and university presidents talk about the great fit of the new alliances, but the bottom line is monetary--in the form of increased media-based revenue.

"If the money were the same, nobody would be switching," says Debbie Yow, athletic director at North Carolina State.

While a conference shift undoubtedly brings in more money, it also brings in more expenses. If the geographic area of an athletic conference expands, there is now more travel involved and new logistical considerations--not just for football, but for every sport in which a school competes. A season of football averages 12 games, but other sports may compete two or three times as often. In order to keep football programs successful and retain winning coaches, non-revenue-generating sports may be on the chopping block despite increased institutional revenue.

The power and prestige of football in the fabric of not only collegiate athletics, but overall college life, were clearly elucidated at the IMG Intercollegiate Athletics Forum (IAF), presented by Sports-Business Daily/Global/Journal held in New York Dec. 5 and 6.

"I think we're all worried," says Beth Bass, CEO of the Women's Basketball Coaches Association, who attended the IAE "I don't think women's basketball (which has a significant contract with ESPN) is at risk, but all Olympic sports (everything other than football and basketball) are. The travel is not sustainable.

"All this conference shuffling, eventually some sports could be cut."

Traditional rivalries are hit hard. While exciting new matchups may overcome the disappointment in football, other sports may see an attrition of fans.

"Rivalries really matter to our fans and to our teams," says Warde Manuel, athletic director of the University of Connecticut, a powerhouse in men's and women's basketball. "When you have these realignments, you have to work at building a rivalry and re-creating some of the things you're losing. It's not easy to do."

Mike Alden, athletic director of the University of Missouri, says traditional rivalries and conference alignments are evolving.

"We're trying to achieve something even greater," he says. "Some of that's financial; some of that has to do with greater exposure.

"You're making a decision which is best for an institution," he adds. "Football's going to be a main driver on that."

Alden says you won't see non-revenue-generating sports like soccer or swimming cut at Missouri, but other institutions might have to make cuts. He envisions five years from now there will be a revised model for college athletics where the top 60 to 70 institutions separate in some way from the rest of Division I.

The word "accommodate" came up frequently at the IAF, the sentiment being that the NCAA will be pressed to accommodate the needs and desires of schools with greater resources. That may come in the form of allowing the full cost of attendance, which would give student-athletes the actual cost of attending in the form of an annual stipend of up to $2,000. Schools with smaller athletic budgets won't be able to afford this, thus giving those schools that can an unfair advantage in recruiting. Athletic directors in schools with athletic budgets 10 to 20 times greater than other Division I institutions say get used to it. …

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