Thursday, November 26, 2009

One year anniversary and a Happy Thanksgiving


The vagaries of the calendar created an alignment of Thanksgiving Day with a slightly less important event, the one year anniversary of http://www.ultimatesportsinsider.com/.  One year ago, I wrote my first blog entry "College rankings and the athletic solution".  I'm sure it stands as one of my least read postings.  Each day after it was written, I would check my Google Analytics to see if I had achieved ESPN-like readership.  I was part of the global conversation and of course Google would have thousands of people reading my postings in short order.  Reality check - it took nearly 45 days, and another 9 postings to reach double digit readership for a single day.  Needless to say, growth was slow. 

In the last 365 days, an additional 113 postings have focused on a variety of topics with the economic environment and athletic budgets serving as the primary issue by a wide margin.  My favorite topic is the RPI.  And the posting that I most enjoyed writing also received the most attention - Sports Leadership by the Stadium Lights.  The result has been steady growth.

Today, USI (some friends like to refer to the blog this way, but the domain name is already owned by a phone company) has achieved a level of readership that I would have laughed at had someone suggested it during the paltry numbers of USI's early days.  The most recent statistics include:
  • 27,232 visitors (includes individuals who return to the site more than once);
  • 14,984 unique visitors (counts each individual person once, regardless of how many times they visit);
  • 820 visitors in a single day (October 7, 2009); and
  • Readers in 84 countries (United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Japan, Australia, India, Belgium, Brazil, Netherlands, and Philippines are the top ten countries). 
So on this Thanksgiving evening, after the turkey is gone and everyone has gone to bed, I thank you for your readership, critical comments, article suggestions, and notes of support.  While ESPN.com still surpasses my readership by a wide margin, I believe USI is filling a niche.  I thank you for the opportunity to learn so much about college athletics through the countless connections that we have developed in the last 12 months through http://www.ultimatesportsinsider.com/.  I hope you've received some value along the way and I look forward to the next 12 months.

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Monday, November 23, 2009

Northeastern Dropping Football


Northeastern University Director of Athletics Peter Roby announced that the football program will be discontinued, effective immediately.  The press release announcing the move stated, "The decision is consistent with the university’s strategic approach to prioritize programs and invest in signature strengths."

Northeastern was averaging fewer than 1600 fans per game and the program needed major infrastructure investments in order to maintain competitiveness.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Athletic Budget Update #55



New Orleans Chancellor Timothy P. Ryan indicated the University is evaluating the possibility of the moving from Division I to Division III due to their dire institutional and athletic budget situation. 

Boise State has announced that they are selling shares of stock that provide ownership in Boise State Athletics, Inc.  The non-profit corporation will allow shareholders to vote for board members and provides an influx of financial support similar to what the Green Bay Packers experienced in the 1997 when they went public.  Shares are $100 each and 1,200 have already been sold.

Boise State's football team is also seeking a home and home series to fill out its schedule, but having little success finding a game.  They are also willing to accept $900,000 to $1 million to play a guarantee game.   

The Chair of New Mexico's Student Fee Review Board intends to reconsider the $1.5 million the athletic program receives in light of a number of recent high profile incidents surrounding the program. 

Stanford's continuing budget situation has reached the stage where there is dialogue about the possibility of cutting sports on The Farm, although it is still considered a last resort.

California Chancellor Robert Birgeneau indicated that he will be working to develop a plan that removes all institutional support for athletics.  

USA Today has done an in depth series of articles about the salaries of college football coaches.  A database of the salaries was developed as well as a number of articles.   Inside Higher Education has also looked at the issue.

Alaska Anchorage's attempt to increase their student fee was rejected by the student government in a 10-1 vote.   

Media guides have yet another twist.  Jayda Evans who writes the women's hoops blog for the Seattle Times posted a fascinating article about Florida State women's basketball in which "Players are depicted in silky, metallic-colored, sleeveless dresses either stepping out of a limo or leaning beside one in artistic glam shots."  It's an article that is sure to spark discussion about the depiction and approach.  The Florida State site can be accessed here.

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Sunday, November 8, 2009

Athletic Budget Update #54


The pressure on Cal's athletic department continues to mount following a faculty resolution calling for the end to subsidies for the athletic program.  Athletic Director Sandy Barbour was strong in her defense of the program stating, "I object vehemently to the notion that athletics is not part of the educational mission." 

Elsewhere in California, Cal Fullerton balanced its budget in part by mandating that gymnastics and wrestling fund a large portion of their budgets through donations.  Gymnastics needed to raise $90,000 in just a few months to keep the program afloat. As the state budget situation worsens, there is concern that the programs may not last beyond this year.  Wrestling will need to raise $200,000 in order to save their program.

Meanwhile a faculty member at Louisville is taking a page out of the Cal faculty's playbook and doing his own research about athletic subsidies at his institution, finding various payments to athletics in the previous few years. 

Central Florida allowed Marcus Jordan, son of Michael Jordan, to wear Nike sneakers, instead of adidas.  As a result, adidas will not renew the deal with UCF.  It will be interesting to see if Jordan rewards the Golden Knights with a Nike sponsorship.

Cal Poly has cut three staff positions, including one fund raiser, to help close their budget gap.  They have also eliminated printed media guides and may look to reduce scholarship allocations.  
 
The Detroit News has a detailed article about the financial situation at Michigan and Michigan State, indicating that despite the overall budget environment in the state, that they are maintaining robust athletic programs.  At Michigan, major construction continues at Michigan Stadium with additional changes coming for basketball in the form of a practice facility as well as renovations to Crisler Arena.  The Detroit News also has a smaller article about the financial situations at Central, Eastern and Western Michigan who have much less robust budgets than Michigan and Michigan State.

Kentucky spent $300,000 to host its "Big Blue Madness" promotion to kick off the first day of basketball practice. 

Boston College is not going to pay for their band to travel to away contests this year, which will save approximately $30,000 for the Eagles. 

Hawaii Pacific has cut an athletic trainer in order to help with their budget situation.

Nevada coaches have seen their budgets drop significantly and the details of those cuts can be found here.  

Inside Higher Education is reporting that 26 states are anticipating another $16 billion budget shortfalls. The impact from these mid-year cuts on higher education and athletics remains to be seen, but this is obviously not a good sign.

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Thursday, November 5, 2009

Digging deep into the Knight, Part 2 - Academic Integrity

The watchdog of college sports, The Knight Commission, celebrated its 20th anniversary with a major study about how college presidents view the current state of intercollegiate athletics. I encourage you to read the report in its entirety as there is a mountain of interesting information, much of which will serve you very well as you discuss, support and defend athletics on your own campus.

This is the second of a multi-part series examining the just released study. As in part one of the series, I examine the current study using the recommendations in the Knight Commission's 1991-93 reports. These reports established four primary areas of importance in order to "reform" intercollegiate athletics, which was perceived as out of control in the early 1990's. The four primary areas were: Presidential Control (examined in part one of the series), Academic Integrity, Fiscal Integrity and Certification.

The Commission's second recommendation from its 1991-93 reports called for Academic Integrity: "No Pass, No Play".  Twenty years later, the academic health of college athletics, although still having significant room for improvement, has changed in meaningful ways and the goals of the commission have largely been achieved.  In 1989, the graduation rate among all student athletes was 58%, one percentage point better than the graduation rate of the student body in general (57%).  Division I men's basketball was at 44% and football's rate was 56%.  The 2008 rates showed that the student athlete rate had risen to 64%, compared to 62% for non-athlete students.   Men's basketball has moved to 49%, while football remained at 56%. This data reflects the changes in NCAA eligibility requirements that were adopted from the Commission's recommendations.

Since that time, under the leadership of NCAA President Myles Brand a new era of accountability not previously seen in college athletics arrived with the implementation of the Academic Progress Rating.  Since establishing the rating, athletic eligibility rates have continued to rise while transfer rates have decreased, including in the sports of football and basketball.  Although six year graduation rate data is not yet available, it would seem reasonable to expect further graduation rate improvements from improving eligibility and decreasing transfer rates.

Despite these improvements, the presidents who were surveyed do not believe all is well with respect to the educational experience of student athletes. The concerns center around two issues: the cultural impact of athletics on the institution and the effect of athletics on the educational experience of the individual student athlete. 

From a cultural perspective, the concerns reflect the "overemphasis" of athletics.  Stated one president: "There’s too much identification of a university with non-academic aspects, distracting from values of higher education and from desirable values in society."

Said another: "We’re in a situation right now in which the athletic association has more money and disposable money than it has ever had. On the academic side there is less flexibility at any time since World War II. This
creates very disparate cultures. Athletics can spend and do whatever it wants to do, and the academic core of the campus, which is operating under much greater constraints, sees that. The rationalization of those two cultures is one of the most difficult things we face."

What is interesting about these sentiments is that they are as much a reflection of the academy's cultural shift as they are a criticism of athletics.  Consider the first quote which cites "non-academic aspects".  While athletics is certainly a contributor to this shift, it is hardly the sole one.  The values of higher education are increasingly bottom-line oriented.  And as the resources for higher education become increasingly scare and tuition moves ever higher, non-academic concerns that focus on revenue generation, branding and marketing shape the academy in ways not previously seen.

For example, institutional marketing materials all tout academic quality supported by references to faculty/student ratios, departments that have won acclaim in a particular discipline and ratings in various publications of the best colleges and universities.  But the ability to make meaningful academic distinctions is blurred when comparing across literally thousands of colleges and universities, necessitating other marketing approaches. Institutions attract students by building lavish residence halls and recreation facilities while institutional traits such as diversity, religious affiliation, affordability, personal attention, and student life enhancing activities such as athletics are emphasized.  So while athletics certainly represents the most public aspect of this cultural shift in marketing and branding, it is hardly the only shift as institutions increasingly pursue prestige and compete for students and funding. 

Turning to the educational experience of student athletes, concerns from the initial Knight Commission report that focused on graduation rates and admission credentials no longer appear to be the presidential focus.  Instead, the presidents are concerned about academic engagement and educational experience.  Said one president, "My biggest concerns about the current pressures have more to do with the academic experience of athletes. I think we are, but I’m not sure that we’re doing right by our students. Pressure on athletes to use time for other things rather than academics is huge."

Another stated: "We’re drifting away from the intent of intercollegiate athletics, which is to give students a chance to compete in athletics in college and get a good education. We’re undermining the public’s confidence in the integrity of intercollegiate sports."

These concerns appear to have some basis.  In the 2009-10 academic year, college football started preseason practice in late July or very early August, in part to accommodate a 12th game (that was added 3 years ago).  College hockey played its first official games this year on October 8, and won't conclude the season until April 10, making the season at least a month longer than college basketball's season.  Meanwhile basketball's lengthy season is shaped by ratings friendly television scheduling and creative promotions such as ESPN's 24 hour tip off marathon on Tuesday November 17 that will have teams tipping off at 6 am, 8 am, 10 am and noon as well as 11 pm in their local time zones while other teams compete throughout the day.  The publicity and national exposure for some of the schools is significant.  But the season-long travel and non-traditional game times certainly have some academic impact on individual student athletes.

These types of changes didn't happen overnight.  They evolved as part of the explosion of televised sports along with other creeping, incremental changes, including: 1) attempts by each sport, using the NCAA governance structure, to "grow the sport"; 2) institutional and NCAA revenue generation; 3) accommodation for Olympic and World Championships; 4) attempts to improve training methods and 5) opportunities to enhance competitiveness, winning and professional opportunities. 

These changes coupled with financial opportunities and pressure to win demand increasing levels of athletic commitment by coaches in order to be successful.  The fear of being outworked, out coached, or not fully prepared is real.  Add in a transactional relationship between the coach and athlete where one-year renewable scholarships defray college tuition that has surpassed $50,000/year at nearly 60 institutions and the result is an environment where the student athlete's academic and non-academic activities are almost completely directed.  Colorado Football Coach Dan Hawkins's description of a letter he received from a parent provides a colorful example.  Hired to resurrect Colorado's football fortunes, Hawkins expectations as he looks to improve the program are for the student athlete to either buy into the vision or move on.




All the parties involved - coaches, parents, presidents and student athletes - understand the deal even though it has shortcomings.  It is a deal that everyone agrees to in the form of salary (coaches), institutional benefits such as exposure, branding and marketing power (presidents), competitive experience (student athletes) and paid tuition (parents).  And I suspect it's a deal many non-athlete students would make if it were offered and covered their skyrocketing tuition bill.  But the trade-off comes at a cost - a corresponding loss of freedom to experiment, grow and learn in the manner that occurs for most of the student body.  But with the expectation of proper off-field behavior from athletes and high levels of on-field performance demanded from coaches in all sports, a controlled educational experience is understandable. What's a coach to do?  What's a president to do?  What's a student athlete to do?  I suspect almost no one will choose intramurals.

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Sunday, November 1, 2009

Athletic Budget Update #53


Cal reduced its 2009-10 budget by eliminating eight staff positions, cutting international team travel and trimming the operating budgets of all department sports teams by six percent and the football budget by 12 percent.   Inside Higher Education also has an in depth article about the financial situation at Cal

A member of the Iowa Board of Regents is questioning the viability of scholarship football at Northern Iowa. UNI receives $4.6 million in general funds and student fees.  By comparison Iowa State receives $3 million.

Iowa received approval for $26 million in bonds to renovate Carver-Hawkeye Arena. 

Western Kentucky Athletic Director Wood Selig had his contract extension and pay raise delayed after a small group of faculty and students protested at a meeting of the school's Regents.  The decision on his extension will be deferred until January in order to build better working relationships with faculty.  The deferral was not related to performance, but rather to budgetary concerns.

The NCAA's governing board approved a 130,000 foot, $35 million expansion to their headquarters with construction slated to begin next year.  The expansion is to accommodate the NCAA's 500 staffers and leave room for growth.  In 1999, the NCAA staff was approximately 350.  

St. Louis Community Colleges will be cutting 7 of their 22 sports next year.  

The Orlando Sentinel examines budgetary issues in Florida, taking particular issue with Central Florida for cutting a number of academic programs while raising tuition 15% and charging a $12.68/credit hour athletic fee to fund nearly half of the athletic budget. 

The Washington Post cites a new study estimating the amount of money cut from high school sports at $2 billion.

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