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Colleges Cut Costs By Cutting Sports

Yesterday I mentioned that the economic downturn has affected faculty recruitment at many universities, including the University of California system. Thus budget cutbacks are having a negative impact on the educational experience of students.

Universities are also cutting sports–or at least slashing their budgets.  Very few NCAA sports programs break even, and even fewer make money:  most are a drag on institutional budgets.  As reported by the Associated Press,

In the five-year period through 2008, only 18 of 119 Division I athletic departments operated in the black, according to preliminary numbers compiled by Dan Fulks, an accounting professor at Transylvania University in Lexington, Ky., who has been an NCAA consultant for 20 years. Those numbers were before the economic downturn.

And one might argue (though in America college sports seem to be sacrosanct) that the amounts of money regularly poured into varsity athletics are unjustifiably high.  So perhaps it’s a good thing that coaches’ budgets are being axed.

But whether we think this is a good or bad thing, there is no doubt that the faltering economy is having an impact on the student experience at many universities.

Here are some examples:

  • Some schools are eliminating new scholarships to less flashy sports, like cross country, track and field, and swimming.
  • Many schools are trimming travel budgets.  For some schools this means fewer chartered plane and more commercial flights.  For some this means more buses instead of airplanes.  For others, it means traveling only to neighboring states.
  • Some are cutting insurance for walk-on players.
  • Media guides–hefty, eye-popping, public relations pieces–are being eliminated at many colleges.
  • Coaches are scheduling more practices and games during the day to save on nighttime lighting.

Some of these measures will be barely noticeable to most athletes (except those swimmers who were expecting scholarships in return for spending countless hours paddling back and forth across the pool).  But if the economic downturn continues to affect college budgets, I would expect to see more cuts to athletic programs in the coming years.

Since most athletic programs do not pay for themselves, college presidents and boards of trustees will come under pressure to make further cuts to their institutional budgets.  And as they do, expect them to focus more on trimming athletic budgets as a way to protect financial aid, faculty salaries, and student services that are shared by all students–rather than the small number of athletes in some sports.

What does this mean for students and their families who are shopping for colleges with particular sports?  Be aware that some sports are much better funded than others, and that while a sport seems well-funded today, that doesn’t mean it will be well-funded tomorrow.  Ask questions about the financial health of the program, and inquire as to what cuts already have been made in the last year or two.  Don’t just assume that if your son or daughter gets a scholarship today that it will necessarily be extended all four years:  that’s a guarantee that no coach can really make in these tough financial times.

Mark Montgomery
Educational Consultant



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  1. Let’s face it; times are tough in this economy, especially when it comes to athletic recruitment. Though there’s evidence showing that the recession’s coming to a close, it’ll still take some time for the economy to become stable again. Until then, many colleges are cutting back on their spending habits, which unfortunately include slashing the funding of athletic departments, sport scholarships, and the recruitment of high school and college student athletes.

    Now if athletic coaches found ways to save money in their search for the perfect addition to their squad during team recruitment, they wouldn’t have to worry about going overboard on their budgets. A new website called JumpForward.com assists them by supplying them resources and new methods of communication that’ll cut down on athletic spending during the recruitment process. Ultimately, athletic coaches will find themselves and their office more efficient, which cuts down on the amount of time they spend on tasks like communicating with their student athletes individually over the phone or email.

    http://www.jumpforward.com/LearnMore/index.aspx?lm=2&feat=23&comp=1

  2. Dear Tom,

    I think you’re right that athletic recruitment will begin to undergo a shift, now that the economy is forcing the shift to happen. More and more recruiting will have to be done digitally and remotely

    The same issues are beginning to hit college admissions offices. Gone are the days that direct mail and visits to high schools by admissions officers will do the trick. It’s much more efficient to use the technology that the Digital kids are now using.

    Times, they are a-changin’.

    Mark

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