Collegiate swimming programs, along with other college sports teams in the “Olympic” sphere (in other words, those that don’t bring in substantial revenue of their own), are growing increasingly worried about their futures in a post-pandemic economy. Those fears grew this week as commissioners of an additional 22 NCAA Division I Conferences asked for permission to di below the minimum program counts to remain in D1.
College coaches around the country are scrambling to fight to save their programs. The head coach of one Power 5 Conference team reached out to SwimSwam on Friday to share exactly how this coach’s program is accomplishing that. For purposes of this article, we’ll refer to the coach as “Coach Doe.”
While at present, Coach Doe’s athletics director has not asked programs to find ways to cut spending, Coach Doe felt that a proactive approach would give his program the best chance to survive. This is all cased in the fact that if football doesn’t happen in the fall, “there is no trimming that is going to save our program,” Coach Doe said.
Coach Doe has been able to cut about $150,000 off of about a $2 million annual budget using these strategies.
Measures taken to cut costs:
- Cancelled a cross-country trip for a quad meet.
- Requested no increase in Coach Doe’s new contract (though Coach Doe admits that this was not a substantial piece of the savings).
- Requested to delay filling a vacant assistant coach position on the staff
- Will only order 1 tech suit per athlete as opposed to 2.
These items come to about a 7.5% savings on the team’s budget. While in-and-of-itself that $150,000 isn’t quite nearly enough to save a program, if multiplied across, say, 14 programs, that comes out to $2.1 million, which is enough to save a program.
Publicly, programs are promoting their value to an athletics department – which of course is important in these decision-making schemes as well. But privately, coaches like Coach Doe should be working together to find enough money to save a program, if necessary.
Required Dates of Competition
Coach Doe advocated for the NCAA to, across-the-board, dramatically reduce the limit on dates of competition and reduce costs for all programs this way. This would be especially true in a sport like swimming, where regular-season competition is much less meaningful than in other sports like softball or soccer or volleyball, where post-season fates are dependent on regular-season records. In swimming, those mid-season invites and conference championship meets are the ones that matter.
- (Author’s aside – maybe this will finally kill off Last Chance Meets?)
Currently for Division I, the maximum dates of competition is 20, not including conference and NCAA Championship meets. Perhaps Stanford is the model – the women’s team last year had 10 days of collegiate competition not including the Pac-12 Championships. That’s 7 single-day dual meets (6 of which were against Pac-12 opponents) plus 3 days at the mid-season Art Adamson Invitational. The men did even better, with only 9 days of competition plus the Pac-12 Championships.
This could come with some creativity, like “virtual meets” in swimming, especially for dual meets that for most don’t mean much beyond a chance at racing experience; or suffering late bus rides home after evening meets rather than getting hotel rooms.
“Our ability to save money is limited only by our creativity,” Coach Doe said.
Another solution is to swim home-and-home series against geographically close teams. Traditionally, college teams only swim each opponent once in a season, but there’s no reason that has to happen. In some cases, this could be a treat – two Arizona-Arizona State or Ohio State-Michigan matchups in one season? Sounds like double the fun to this author.
In an old issue of SwimSwam Magazine (the print edition), we ran some sample budgets from programs at different levels of the sport that were provided by then-CSCAA director Joel Shinofeld. For Power 5 schools, budgets ranged from about $1.3 million annually to $5.3 million annually. For smaller Division I “FCS” teams, the budgets ran from $152,800 to $2.79 million annually, with a mean of $908,206.
While every program’s budget is structured a little differently, here’s a general look at what costs programs the most money. The numbers in parenthesis are a ‘scaling,’ to indicate the cost impact of each item. These are based on a co-ed program.
- Facility rentals/upkeep (varies widely by school, but many athletics departments don’t own the pools they train in, and have to pay rental to other departments of the school, like rec sports).
- Scholarships (80) – If fully paid. These costs drop dramatically as a percentage of budget at FCS, D2, and D3 programs. For FCS schools, these weight similarly to staffing costs. This will probably be a very unpopular area to reduce costs.
- Staffing (50) – Coaches are expensive. But, if a program can make do with one fewer coach for a season, there could be substantial savings in one fell swoop.
- Travel (10) – Not an insignificant cost, but on scale, much lower than the above categories. Travel is an easy place to cut, but a hard place to cut enough to save a program. This also varies by program. Teams from Alaska or Hawaii will have higher travel costs than teams in Southern California, where there are dozens of possible opponents a stone’s throw away. Finding more meets with fewer overnight trips, and more importantly that can be traveled to via bus rather than plane, is a big help here.
- Equipment/Operating (7) – Running meets, pull buoys, suits, ‘swag.’
- Administrative Expenses (5) – This is the billing for things like communications support, billing support, and student-athlete academic services.
- Recruiting (3) – This includes bringing students on campus for visits and coaches going to visit students at their home clubs. Again, this is an easy place to cut, but not a place to save a ton of money.