Let Creativity Save College Sports

Braden Keith
by Braden Keith 0

November 13th, 2011 College

When we ran our interview with Maryland swimmers Megan Lafferty and Kevin Reardon last week, what really stood out to me is that there seemed to have been no attempts for creative solutions to save any of the Maryland programs. There is no denying that the Athletics Department needed to save money, but in all of the years that they are reported to have been running at a deficit, there was reportedly never an approach made that said “this is what we need to do to save these sports”.

For example, Maryland has only overshot their budget once in the past few years. While the program is losing money at a rate of $1.5 million a year, that loss was effectively signed-off on by the Athletic Department every year. There was reportedly never anybody who came to the program and said “hey, we need to figure out how we can pull back on spending to get out of this debt crisis.”

This is a symptom of a bigger problem in non-revenue college sports culture. Athletic Directors around the country recognize that there are solutions to the budget woes that face athletics departments. These solutions, however, take thought, and effort, and creativity. All of which equate to a lot of work. And if an Athletic Director manages to save even one non-revenue sport from destruction, what have they really accomplished?

Unless someone with the star-power of Michael Phelps is making a stand, there is very little risk to a school’s reputation. Nobody else really has the sway or influence to affect the opinions of the thousands of youth swimmers who aren’t good enough to swim in college and might attend Maryland a swim-team-less Maryland. Football, basketball, and to a very tiny extent baseball and women’s basketball are the only sports with enough power to make a noticeable ding in a school’s reputation. Even age group and high school swimmers seem, for the most part, indifferent to attending college swim meets.

I have no problem with college Athletic Directors making a lot of money. Maryland AD Kevin Anderson pulls in about $450,000 plus performance bonuses every year. Though that’s probably a bit much for my liking, it’s hard for one to argue that the stress of running a major division 1 athletics program isn’t worth a large compensation package. But the question is why is Anderson being paid $450,000 to simply go through and slice 5 programs that aren’t making money?

Are those type of solutions really worth a half-a-million dollars per year? The old administration was running the athletic program into the ground, but it’s disconcerting that the new regime doesn’t have any solutions aside from immediately whacking teams. Those sort of solutions don’t indicate that they have a better idea of how to manage an athletics program, rather it implies that they are just as clueless as their predecessors, only that they are more ruthless.

These are the same symptoms we heard about when we chatted with those fighting the cut of Clemson’s swimming program. Yes, these Athletic Directors may be saving money by cutting programs, but they’re not coming any closer to accomplishing their Mission Statement and guiding principles (one of which is, by the way, to “carry out sound management practices”). Sound management practices usually involve maximizing the collegiate experiences for as many students per dollar spent as is possible.

At some point, cutting programs might be inevitable. Maybe running 27 athletics programs is too much. But without any appearance of having tried for any creative solutions, going to program cuts first hurts as a fan of all sports.

Over the next few days, we’re going to delve further into some creative solutions. Let’s hope that the Maryland administration, before rubber-stamping these cuts, has the foresight to at least give cursory looks into some plans to run a leaner, meaner Athletics Department. And here’s one better – none of them will be the same-old song-and-dance that takes a significant direct stab at college football, because it’s foolish to pretend like swimming will ever win at football.

Stay tuned, and if you have any ideas of your own that you would like to contribute, please shoot us an email at [email protected]

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About Braden Keith

Braden Keith

Braden Keith is the Editor-in-Chief and a co-founder of SwimSwam.com. He first got his feet wet by building The Swimmers' Circle beginning in January 2010, and now comes to SwimSwam to use that experience and help build a new leader in the sport of swimming. Aside from his life on the InterWet, …

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