Thursday, May 12, 2005

It's that time of the year again

There are a few certainties about May in Cycloneland:

Football season ticket renewals are due;

Chemical warfare breaks out on lawns across the Midwest against the insurgent known as Crabgrass;

A few voices rise up lamenting all the suffering Title IX has wrought upon college athletics.

It is never much of a cry from a numbers standpoint, but those few can get loud after a few drinks. "Those damn non-revenue sports, especially WOMEN'S sports, suck too much money from the teams that people care about." And every summer, like crabgrass, the cries of a few must be addressed.

Even the casual observer has to admit that Big Time Sports in experiencing an unparalleled arms race. The money spent on Football and Men's Basketball is staggering, and increases exponentially. The money those sports generate can be staggering, too.

That money causes two struggles: one amongst the fan base, and another within the universities themselves.

Most fans understand that Big Time Football is the cash cow that funds everything else in athletic departments. A few grumble, wishing that every nickel that football generates would be spent on football, and the program run like the semi-pro team it is.

Every university has the cadre of academics who see the millions that flow into athletic departments, and wonder why athletics still needs money from the general fund to pay the bills.

One group wants to cut all big football and men's hoops from the athletic department and let them fend for themselves. The other wants to push everything on its own self-supporting island.

Neither are right.

First, only a few dozen of the 112 schools that play Big Time Football can even begin to be self-supporting in athletics. Some who claim they solvent are probably cooking the books. If Iowa City can't, with the fat ESPN TV contract they get a cut of, few can. So without selling 700,000 football tickets each year, it's a pipe dream for schools.

I am sure that if the NCAA did not mandate a minimum of 12 varsity sports, there would be schools with FB, MBB and nothing else. They would be officially semi-pro.

Which brings us to the question: Why have varsity athletics at the college level?

Or rather, why do some schools embrace the "Olympic" sports more than others?

Stanford has 33 sports. Ohio State, 31. Iowa has 21, ISU 14. Kansas State, 12, the minimum. A big spread amongst schools who all play Big Time Football.

But get outside of the Big Time schools and it gets more interesting.

Dartmouth has 31 sports. Wartburg 21. Loras 19. Grinnell 18. Yet those schools don't receive a dime in TV revenue, and token ticket sales, if any. Yet they have sports. They hire coaches, they build facilities, and find money for athletes that doesn't say "athletic scholarship" at the top. Those schools make the effort. Those schools believe athletics enrich the lives of the athletes and the campus at large. The find a portion of the general fund to make it happen.

Yet it is the Big Time schools that cut the most sports, who grumble about the "teams nobody watches", who cringe at a few hundred thousand in general fund cash going to athletics.

It's a sham, and an embarrassment.

I don't know how common women's athletics were pre-Title IX, Big Time schools or not. I know at Iowa and ISU, they were non-existent. But any administrator or fan who implies that a men's sport has to go away to meet Title IX is full of it. The problem of funding women's sports, and Olympic sports in general, isn't a lack of cash.

It's a lack of will.