Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Athletic budget update #16

Creative funding at a number of schools highlights the latest budget news about how athletic departments are dealing with the economic crisis.

  • State Universities in Oregon - An arrangement in the state of Oregon benefits all publicly funded athletic programs by dedicating 1% of the state's lottery funds to support athletics.

  • Tennessee Tech - Anticipates avoiding major athletic cuts due to economic stimulus funds being channeled to the state's universities.

  • Ohio State - Signed a 10-year, $110 million sponsorship and media deal with ING College and RadiOhio.

  • Maine - Needs to cut $500,000 from its budget in the next 30 days due to endowment losses, general funds shortfalls and decreased ticket revenue.

  • NCAA - Review of an array of programs from across the Division I spectrum with speculation about what economic conditions might mean for different types institutions.


Saturday, March 28, 2009

Sampling the student athlete experience

Its 2 am in Minneapolis and I'm sitting in my hotel eating dinner while replaying in my mind Princeton's 5-4 overtime loss to Minnesota-Duluth in the first round of the NCAA Men's Ice Hockey Championships. Its a game that Princeton would have won were it not for Duluth scoring a goal with 0.8 seconds left in the game to send it to overtime. The emotional extremes for both teams cannot be understated in a game like this.

But the experience for five student athletes from each team was different from their teammates, due to post game drug testing expectations.

The game officially ended at 11:04 pm. For Princeton, three athletes produced samples that were acceptable within 15 minutes or so, but two were unable to do so because their specimen was too diluted. The fourth athlete was successful on his second attempt about 45 minutes after the process started.

But for the fifth athlete the ordeal was just beginning. He spent time eating 4 or 5 power bars, almonds from the concession stand, and NutriGrain bars. And he couldn't drink anything to help wash it down (keep in mind he played over 70 minutes of hockey) because he was too hydrated.

After 90 minutes when it was clear we had a long way to go, I asked if the test could be done anywhere, and the testers confirmed this was the case, so I suggested the testing process be moved to the hotel. The request was denied by another individual not assigned to our team. In addition to the post game separation from his teammates, he was also unable to spend time with numerous family members who attended the game.

At that point, because he wasn't dehydrated enough, it was suggested by the testers that he "work up a sweat". Despite already having showered and wearing a dress shirt and khakis, he got on a bike to continue losing fluid (never mind the NCAA rules about post competition workouts). Still no luck.

More waiting and an exercise called the "dying cockroach" (a sit-up like activity for about a minute or so) to help him urinate again.

I wish I was making this up - but I'm not.

It is important to mention that the drug testing staff assigned specifically to our team was VERY professional and the student athlete was gracious throughout - courteous, accommodating and an incredible representative of Princeton, his teammates and himself. The NCAA representatives and the University of Minnesota hosts were similarly professional. Everyone made the best of a bad situation, but this situation never should have been allowed to happen in the first place.

2 1/2 hours after the contest ended and six urine samples later, we finally left the building at 1:40 am. When we left, there were still athletes from Duluth who had not yet produced a sample due to the same problems. I can only assume they were engaging in the same activities. But Duluth's athletes had a game to prepare for at 8 pm the next evening and their preparation consisted of no post game dinner (unless you count similar Power Bar sustenance) and an expectation that they dehydrate themselves while needing to be ready to compete again in 18 hours. I should also note that athletes from Miami and Denver had the same expectation and that at least one athlete from the first game took more than three hours.

It is important to note that a positive post game test for banned substances has no impact on the outcome of the contest, making the importance of doing a test at this time of quite limited. The athlete only disqualifies himself from further competition with a positive test. The result is a well designed process with horrible timing.

The season shouldn't be concluded with well-intentioned strangers asking you to pee in a plastic cup into the "wee hours" of the morning. This could easily be done the day before competition after practice, or even on campus within a couple weeks of the end of the season for post-season contenders.

The student athlete experience is incredible and the memories from this game for both teams will last a lifetime. But the bonding experiences, grieving, celebrations, family time and other associated camaraderie - an incredibly important part of those memories - were incomplete due to a well intentioned attempt to keep the college athletics drug free. Athletes on the losing teams will never be in the same locker room again. Athletes on the winning teams are trying to avoid the same fate in less than 24 hours. Each season has a life of its own and when its over, the loss can be death-like.

For athletes participating in any of the 88 championships sponsored by the NCAA, there has to be a better way to enforce drug-free sport while maintaining the integrity of the student athlete experience. The current post-game approach doesn't balance these interests adequately.

On the Princeton athlete's last attempt, the tester said to him, "Lets get this done (correctly) this time so that you can go home. I'm sure you'll wish to never see me again."

The athlete responded: "I want to see you again, because I want to be back here again next year." I hope he gets his wish, but on the practice day prior to competition.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Athletic budget cut update #15 - UMass dropping baseball

As schools move closer to the end of the academic year, significantly bad news continues to come from the challenging athletic budget environment. UMass will become the second school in the Northeast to drop their baseball program, following an earlier announcement by the University of Vermont. thecollegebaseballblog.com was among the first to report this possibility based on information from multiple sources.

  • Minnesota-Crookston - The NCAA Division II institution has decided to drop their ice hockey program in the face of budget issues, even though they had broken ground on a $14.5 million arena to house the sport.

  • College of Marin - The alma mater of USC head football coach Pete Carrol is dropping their football program.

  • Colorado College - Dropping football, softball and water polo. Colorado College is a largely Division III institution, but does sponsor Division I Men's Ice Hockey.

  • Florida International - Athletic Director Pete Garcia has announced that the department will have to cut more than $1 million from the budget. The cuts will include significant layoffs. More details to follow as they become available.

  • LSU - Chancellor Mike Martin is considering "taxing athletics" to help close a possible $50 million institutional budget gap.

  • Utah State - Students passed a referendum by about 300 votes among 4500 cast calling for a $130 annual increase in athletic fees. The increase is in response to inadequate funding for the institution since it joined the Western Athletic Conference (WAC). Student opinion was mixed with a Facebook group being started in opposition to the increase.

  • Colorado State - Increasing their student athletic fee by nearly 20% (an additional $15 per term).

In addition, the New York Times has an extensive article about the impact the economic environment is having on professional sports from the perspective of professional leagues, media and corporate sponsors. It is a sobering but important read because of the depth of information.


Sunday, March 22, 2009

NCAA agent policies - Is Andrew Oliver the Curt Flood of college athletics?

The NCAA's long-standing policy barring athletes from having an agent and its associated amateurism principles are being worn away like water carving stone. Two recent examples in college basketball and a less prominent but important legal case in college baseball that is making its way through the courts provide compelling examples:
  • Rivals.com just wrote an in-depth article about the techniques used by Ceruzzi Sports and Entertainment to pursue Kevin Love (who at the time was a freshman basketball student athlete at UCLA) prior to his widely anticipated entrance into the NBA draft. The actions, enabled by former Duke basketball star Jay Williams, involved Love's former AAU coach taking hundreds of thousands of dollars from the firm to arrange contact between Williams and Love.

  • The Washington Post wrote an extensive piece about the refusal of University of Maryland men's basketball coach Gary Williams to work with AAU coaches in recruiting despite their increasing influence in the decision making process of college prospects. The article is exceedingly direct about the role of AAU coaches in the recruiting process as they broker the services of high school prospects - in one case describing a coach who plans to obtain a 1-900 phone number in order to benefit financially from calls by coaches. The practice of hiring associates or family members of the high school prospect onto the coaching staff where the prospect enrolls is also referenced in the article, in some cases for amounts approaching $500,000 per year.

  • Oklahoma State University baseball pitcher Andrew Oliver has received a temporary restraining order against the NCAA that allows him to pitch for the Cowboys and maintain his eligibility. Oliver sued after he was declared ineligible for having a lawyer present during his negotiations with the Minnesota Twins following his selection as a high school senior in the Major League Baseball draft. The judge in the case said the NCAA's enforcement of the ban was "arbitrary and capricious." The case is being appealed by the NCAA.

The Association's general philosophy is correct in that amateurism supports the educational aspects of college sports. But the evolution of sport has created a situation where amateur no longer means what it once did. The NCAA has changed its rules over the years to address this evolution, creating pragmatic but philosophically challenging positions. Consider these examples:

  • Athletes prior to college (e.g. in the sport of tennis) are allowed to accept prize money from tournaments and retain their eligibility, provided the prize money doesn't exceed "actual and necessary expenses". Said differently, they need to be viewed as a non-profit athlete despite activities that could have them traveling around the world playing their sport. The NCAA has even created an "amateurism clearinghouse" to handle the volume of cases surrounding this issue.

  • The NCAA considers the drafts of the four major professional sports - football, basketball, baseball, and hockey - differently. In baseball and hockey it is permissible to be drafted and even negotiate a contract out of high school, as long as no one acts as your agent since you do not need to "declare" for the draft in these sports. However, in the sports of basketball and football, an underclass athlete who declares for the draft risks their eligibility should they advance to the point where they are actually drafted or select an agent.

  • Athletes can get advice from "advisors" about where they might be drafted and associated financial compensation, but the person can't actually represent their interests in a negotiation. Baseball prospects face this issue as college juniors or after their 21st birthday when they become "draft eligible". Once again, they have to sort out their worth in the open market with "advisors" (not agents).

The advisor/agent distinction seems to hinge largely on three factors: 1) who does the talking, 2) who is in the room during a negotiation and 3) who is paying whom (the athlete can pay the advisor, but advisor can't give anything to the athlete). Athletes are left to navigate a house of mirrors to maintain an illusion of amateurism because well intentioned NCAA bylaws encourage actions that aren't transparent. Consider the role of the "family advisor" and the comments of Michigan hockey coach Red Berenson in this 2007 article about family advisors in college hockey. Ask a coach or athletic administrator about the role of advisors and watch their reaction. The problem is widely known.

The challenge (legally and philosophically) is that the NCAA is stuck in no-man's land on the advisor/agent issue, clinging to a board that is floating in a sea filled with sharks. Ultimatesportsinsider.com believes the NCAA is likely facing a watershed moment in the Andrew Oliver case similar to the challenge Major League Baseball faced from Curt Flood.

Flood challenged Major League Baseball's reserve clause in a dispute that made its way to the United States Supreme Court. Although the case was decided in favor of Major League Baseball, changes in baseball's rules related to free agency were the ultimate outcome. What the courts will finally decide in the Oliver case is unclear.

However, the early decision in Oliver's favor suggests that an uphill battle awaits the NCAA. If Oliver is successful, the minor distinction between agents and advisors will disappear, further carving away the NCAA's "bedrock" principle of amateurism while bringing questionable influences - including those that Gary Williams has resisted and that used Kevin Love - into college athletics like never before.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Athletic budget update #14 - Portland State dropping wrestling

I've received a number of comments from readers around the country hoping that I might post some positive news about the athletic budget environment, hard as that might be. As the on-going series continues, this posting has a couple of relatively "positive" items. But unfortunately they are overshadowed by the Portland State wrestling team being dropped to club status due to budget cuts as well as poor academic performance that was threatening the school's eligibility for championship events.

    Other news includes:
  • Bowling Green - Has announced that the men's hockey team will survive for at least one more season after an outpouring of support and concern about its potential elimination.

  • Pepperdine - Has announced a one year reprieve for the swimming program after donations to support the team were identified. The team is still currently slated to be cut after the 2009-10 season.

  • Louisville - Is currently constructing a $238 million basketball arena and has seen its athletic budget grow 60% in the last five years. However they are also not immune to the current budget environment and have instituted a hiring freeze while capping expenditures. (A subscription is necessary for the full article).
  • Fresno State - Following two earlier posts (Feb 9 and Feb 26), the Bulldogs are facing a $1 million dollar shortfall in all revenue sources, and a 7% cut in their budget - a reduction of over $714,000. They have indicated no teams will be cut.

  • Long Beach State - In an attempt to raise funds, a student referendum to increase the school's athletic fee was defeated by a wide margin. The institution will continue to consider other budget options.
  • Central Michigan - The athletic department will assume responsibility for its own sports information functions following a decision to eliminate three central University staff positions that previously handled public relations issues for athletics.

  • Patriot League - The athletic directors have unanimously approved cost cutting measures including the establishment of travel squad limits in all 23 sports, elimination of awards banquets for League championships, use of teleconferences for all head coach meetings and select administrative meetings. Future plans were also discussed and can be accessed via the link.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Athletic budget cut update #13

The latest update in the series of on-going athletic budget news includes:

  • Cal State Fullerton - Considering the addition of a $169/year fee in order to help balance the budget and to improve facilities for their athletic program.

  • Boston College - Announced an institution-wide 2% cut to all non-salary operating expenses.

  • Iowa - Slowing the construction timetable and process on $50 million worth of improvements at Kinnick Stadium and Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

  • Men's Basketball - The 12 best Division I conference attendance leaders all experienced declines in 2008-09.

Check back regularly for budget and other information from http://www.ultimatesportsinsider.com/

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Athletic budget cut update #12 - More teams being eliminated

Bowling Green University's discussions about eliminating men's ice hockey headline the latest in a series of articles from UltimateSportsInsider.com. The University is facing a $10 million shortfall and athletics has a $750,000 budget hole this year. In an interesting side note, this isn't the first time President Carol Cartwright has been involved in eliminating a hockey program. She was previously the President at Kent State when their program was dropped.

Other budgetary announcements include:

  • Wagner College - Dropping their wrestling and women's volleyball teams effective immediately.

  • Rutgers - Increasing the cost of football tickets by $10 a seat to defray construction costs related to a $100 million stadium expansion after donations fell well short of anticipated targets.

  • Stanford - Cutting their institutional general funds budget by $100 million in the next two years. Athletic implications are unclear as of this posting.

  • Michigan - Looking to limit out of conference travel. Used bus travel instead of charter air for men's basketball to play at Northwestern.

  • Michigan State - Has reduced budget by 10% across the board. Football traveled to Ohio State and Indiana by bus instead of charter air, saving $200,000. Reducing administrator travel with teams. Considering scheduling geographically closer opponents.

  • Colorado State - Cutting budget by $635,000, including a $145,000 reduction in staffing and $133,000 loss of summer school scholarship support.

  • New Hampshire - Cutting department budget by 3%. Shifting to bus travel when possible. Cutting convention and seminar travel. Considering playing fewer games than the NCAA permissible maximum.

  • Big Sky Conference - The conference athletic directors and leadership are discussing changes to the basketball travel format for conference games, reductions in the permissible basketball travel party size from 21 to 18 and reductions in the number of participants in post season tournaments to 4 teams for some yet to be determined sports. Further deliberation to occur at future league meetings in late spring and early summer. (Edited on 3/16/09 based on additional information provided by Jon Kasper, Assistant Commissioner for Media Relations)

Athletic budgets - Is the bottom line perfectly ordinary?

New York Times editorialist Verlyn Klikenborg recently wrote a "Report from a perfectly ordinary place" about his stay at a hotel just off a non-descript highway exit in California. We've all seen them and maybe stayed in one. He states: "A place like this — meant to be placeless — is, of course, full of epiphanies. Mine is simply this. In the motel last night, I found myself listening to the roar of an ice vending machine rising above the rumble of the soda vending machine and the whine of the fluorescents in the ceiling. I began to think about the sheer number of roaring machines in the immediate vicinity of this freeway interchange: machines for heating and cooling, compressing and expanding. "

The article poignantly concludes - "The true business of this wayfarers’ station is to hum and whine and shriek and roar in its own glare without ceasing."

Athletics is a wayfarer's station that provides an escape from daily grind for students, the campus community and alumni. It hums with fight songs, the squeak of sneakers or a ball dribbling, the rhythm of conditioning workouts and practices, and season-long team bonding experiences around shared goals.

Athletics shrieks and roars too - the fans collectively cheering and agonizing with every play, a whistle signaling a foul or penalty, a coach "gently" correcting a mistake made for the umpteenth time, correcting because they care and because they have high expectations. It is a rallying point and source of pride when a team emerges as a national contender. And as student athletes will tell you, it matters.

But college athletics is facing serious economic troubles and it has to consider if it has played a contributing role in its current financial state. Are some of the problems self inflicted - brought about by a reluctance to say no out of fear of losing ground to competitors?

Athletics whines - the resource demands are incessant. Some are legitimate. Some are not. The arms race in facilities, salaries and staff sizes is real. If one team implements an idea, others quickly follow suit in the name of "showing commitment". The failure to do so suggests misplaced priorities and a lack of dedication to winning. But imitation doesn't show creativity and can be expensive. Some examples include:

  • the coach in waiting phenomenon or

  • the construction of basketball specific practice facilities (e.g. Nebraska, Michigan, Iowa State, West Virginia, LSU, among a myriad of others).

  • Consider the quotes made at LSU by Associate Athletic Director of Operations and Project Development Eddie Nunez about their basketball-only practice facility. “This facility will compete with everything in our conference and around the country...". Or from LSU men’s basketball head coach Trent Johnson - “The thing I appreciate the most about it is the commitment of the people here...".

The ubiquitous pressure to show "commitment" can complicate prudent decision making in good times until unyielding economic forces cause gut wrenching decisions in bad times.

Athletics has a glare - a need for attention. Consider the willingness to make any scheduling accommodation (regardless of academic impact or inconvenience for spectators) for "exposure" from television. And examples of unwelcome institutional attention brought about by individuals who lose site of the big picture and cheat for their own gain are well known. The intoxication of wealth, fame and glory are part of the glare that blind decision making.

Many of the factors that have been the undoing of so many businesses and industries can be found in higher education and athletics. The Chronicle of Higher Education just offered 13 reasons colleges contributed to their own demise in the budget crisis. As society becomes increasingly commoditized and standardized, like the non-descript highway-exit motel, universities and athletics risk becoming increasingly ordinary as schools imitate their peers in a form of mission creep.

Athletics' challenge is to avoid following a path to the ordinary by maintaining its educational relevance through the timeless virtues of hard work, dedication, sacrifice, team first and sportsmanship - all while running its business. Over-saturation, overexposure and reflexive imitation coupled with a singular narrow focus on winning can create an entity that appears to exist only for its own self interest. And when budgets are tight, athletics faces additional scrutiny because it is often viewed as an auxiliary enterprise rather than an important educational entity.

The true business of college athletics should not be "to hum and whine and shriek and roar in its own glare without ceasing." Because for athletics and student athletes there are no do overs. No hand outs. No bailouts. No TARP money. Athletics can't afford to be perfectly ordinary. It needs to strive to be extraordinarily perfect.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Athletic budget cut update #11 - Quinnipiac cutting three sports

The announcement that Quinnipiac University is dropping three varsity sports headlines the athletic budget cuts from around the country. The Bobcats are eliminating women's volleyball, men's golf and men's track. Interestingly, Quinnipiac is adding cheerleading to its varsity sport offerings.

Other recent announcements include:

  • Florida State - The department is following through on earlier discussions and cutting its budget by 10% (over $5 million).

  • Boise State - In response to a $325,000 increase in scholarship costs coupled with a $450,000 decrease in funding the Broncos are taking numerous steps to close their budget gap, including: increasing football season ticket prices (by 17% on average), signing a corporate sponsorship deal with Learfield Sports, and pondering layoffs, furloughs and travel restrictions as next steps.

  • U.S. Military Academy (Army) - Limiting travel squads and professional travel. Considering day trips instead of overnight stays for competition as well as salary freezes.

  • Patriot League - Considering elimination of post season tournaments and sending its regular season champion to the NCAA tournament. Considering a return to men's and women's double headers in basketball.

Check back regularly for more updates.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Athletic budget cut update #10

Athletic departments continue to evaluate their budgets as they respond to difficult economic times. Here is the latest in the series of articles from ultimatesportsinsider.com.

  • Hawaii - Experiencing declining attendance in all revenue generating sports. Football had $1.2 million less in ticket sales and volleyball saw attendance drop 500 people per match to fewer than 6000 per contest. Graphics about the department's overall revenue and expense budgets are available after the jump.

  • Wisconsin Milwaukee - Athletics will be part of a $1.9 million auxiliary revenue transfer to the state to offset budget deficits.

  • Duke - Salaries of all university employees making more than $50,000 will be frozen after institutional endowment dropped by more than $1 billion.

  • Mississippi State - Increasing student ticket prices for football.

  • Agnes Scott - President Elizabeth Kiss at the Division III women's college in Decatur, Georgia announced the varsity cross country and swimming teams will become club sports.

  • Iowa - Athletic Director Gary Barta announced the Hawkeyes are holding football season ticket prices steady for 2009. Single game and premium game ticket prices will increase.
  • Southern Mississippi - Men's Basketball Coach Larry Eustachy returning a $25,000 signing bonus.

Check back regularly for more updates.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Athletic budget cut update #9 - Pepperdine drops two teams

Pepperdine is dropping their women's swimming and diving and men's track teams at the conclusion of the academic year, continuing a wave of bad news related to athletic budgets across the nation.

If you are interested in the human interest aspect of these announcements, listen to National Public Radio's excellent eight minute interview with three individuals who were affected by decisions to cut athletic teams. The interview includes Northern Iowa Athletic Director Troy Dannen discussing the decision to drop baseball, Vermont Baseball Coach Bill Currier, whose team was dropped last month, and Western Washington football student athlete Caleb Jessup who was a member of their now defunct football program. All three announcements were previously covered by ultimatesportsinsider.com.

Other new budget related announcements include:

  • North Carolina - Instituted a hiring freeze and is considering reducing or eliminating overtime pay. Eliminating administrative trips to conferences and conventions. Limiting the number of hotel rooms for team travel. Chartering smaller planes for team travel.

  • North Carolina State - Traveled by bus to a basketball game at Virginia Tech rather than using charter aircraft. Football may do the same this fall. Coaches are sharing rooms when traveling and are only permitted to attend one convention per year.

  • Atlantic Coast Conference - May introduce NCAA legislation that would reduce coaching staffs.

  • Buffalo - University at Buffalo Foundation Trustee Stephen Walsh was charged in a $554 million investment fraud. Although no University resources were invested in Walsh's firm, the Athletic Director's suite at Buffalo bears Walsh's name from a $250,000 gift made in 2001. Walsh has allegedly stolen significant higher education funds including $49 from Carnegie Mellon University, $65 million from the University of Pittsburgh, and $339 million from the Iowa Public Employee's Retirement System.

Check back regularly for more updates or subscribe to http://www.ultimatesportsinsider.com/ for information directly to your e-mail.