Friday, April 28, 2006

Save CU Tennis

Long time dormant, but I thought I'd wake up and have a little Coffee With Rhoads. Today it's Farmer Friendly Organic Costa Rican La Amistad. Get some yourself at Little River Roasting, Co.

CU Men's Tennis was scheduled for elimination last month. Supporters have raised over $500,000 in just over a month to get that decision reversed. Anyone interested in the future of intercollegiate athletics and who is interested in this particular story can go to some of the following sites for information:

Save CU Tennis
BRG Blog

The first site has information on what you can do to help, links to stories about the program and the effort to save the team, and so forth. The second site, not realy active usually, has a couple of updates and may have a bit more as the story unfolds.

The reason this is more than just about CU tennis is that men's college sports are disappearing at an alarming rate. Football and basketball are not disappearing, but the participatory sports are. Men's tennis is a favorite place to cut, but swimming, diving, baseball, wrestling, gymnastics, and golf have all taken the axe.

Title IX legislation is partly to blame. But it is not probably the main reason these sports are disappearing. The main reason is that the cost of college athletics has spiraled upwards almost as fast as the stunning rate of growth of college tuition generally. At CU Boulder, undergraduate tuition and fees have grown 7x in the last 26 years. Stunning. Since tuition and fees are a cost of giving athletic scholarships, athletic department costs have risen, too. CU's athletic budget has grown from the $5 mil range per year in 1980 to over $36 mil in 2006.

Without general fund support, without student fees, and without very generous charitable donations every year, very few athletic departments would survive. Despite enormous ticket and TV revenue, athletic departments fail as businesses. The reason is that the two sports that have a chance of making a "profit" at most schools, football and men's basketball, must fund all the other sports. Hence, fiscally responsible athletic directors must look for places to cut. They must look to non-revenue generating sports for those cuts.

With Title IX legislation on the books calling for gender equity in collegs sports, athletic directors cannot very often cut women's sports. The laws state that the participation numbers and dollar amounts must be equal between men and women, or must reflect the enrollment demographics of the school. With men's football spending millions of dollars at most schools, and with men's football having a hundred or more roster spots, getting the dollars and numbers equal between men and women is difficult. Football at most schools brings in way more than it spends, but Title IX legislation does not address revenue equality or expenses compared to revenues. Title IX requires colleges and univesities to strive for gender equity regarding expenses and numbers.

So we get to men's non-revenue sports for any cuts that must be made.

The question on the table hear at Coffee With Rhoads is this: Are the people of Colorado (and the United States) comfortable with the evolution of NCAA Division IAA institutions toward revenue generation and spectator sports at the expense of opportunities for male (and sometimes female) student athletes to play non-revenue, non-TV sports?

I know I love college football and basketball. I know millions of people share those passions. But I'm growing uneasy with a system that caters to the low end of students in those sports (football and basketball team GPAs are overwhelmingly below those of "non-revenue" sports and the rest of the student bodies). I'm also growing uncomfortable with a system that caters more to the fans, donors, and alumni than to the student athletes.

I have always supported bringing student athletes to college campuses. I think that athletes add to the diversity of the campuses. I think that kids who are committed to something outside of the classroom often become valued assets to the campus. I also think that athletes become, on average, quite successful when they leave the campus after graduation. Business leaders, entrepreneurs, and so forth are not always the best students at school. But the commitment they show for the combination of athletics and school, the things they learn as teammates and as competitors, prepare them well for life after school. I would hate to see that lost if we lost college athletics as an extracurricular activity.

Perhaps this unique situation at CU Boulder will prove to be something of a watershed moment. It's not likely, of course, but you never know. At CU with the men's tennis team you have an unusual confluence of events: a VERY successful team being cut, a VERY cheap program, the sole program being cut, a large group of supporters who have quickly raised a VERY large amount of money, a university that has been stung by TERRIBLE PR over the last several years, an athletic department that has been the source of much of that terrible PR, and an opportunity to do something better by keeping a program that has high athletic and academic standards. If CU men's tennis goes down the river, it will surely be followed by many, many more similar programs.