North Carolina State athletic department spokesman Fred Demarest isn’t the first of his ilk to come out and declare that his school is not considering cutting any sports in spite of the financial challenges brought on by the global coronavirus pandemic.
But his comments to Sports Illustrated late Wednesday evening, that “eliminating sports is not a consideration at the current time,” pushes this growing issue into a new realm: the Power 5 Conferences.
In the ultimate haves vs. have-nots of college sports, teams in the Power 5 Conferences have so far been untouched by national slashing of sports from athletics departments. According to a pair of wrestling coaches who are tracking cuts nationally, 21 athletics programs have been cut from Division I schools, including the men’s and women’s swimming & diving programs at East Carolina.
That’s among a whopping 125 programs that are being lost nationwide already across all divisions, although 60 of those come from 5 universities that are closing campuses entirely.
Several Power 5 coaches that SwimSwam has spoken with indicated that they’re not concerned about the future of their programs, presuming there’s a football season in the fall.
Demerest did say that NC State will be moving its programs toward more “regional scheduling” for nonconference competition, which means fewer overnights and plane rides.
“We are geographically fortunate in this area, however,” Demerest said. “There are still a high number options available.”
For NC State swimming, those options shrunk by 1 last with the loss of East Carolina, which is about a 90 minute drive away. The Wolfpack swimmers & divers already had a fairly regional schedule. Their only extensive collegiate travel meets were a quad at Kentucky (500 miles away); and the Tennessee Diving Invite.
It is a growing divide between Power 5 schools, the schools with the biggest budgets and the best football teams; and other division 1 institutions. That rift showed early, when the “others” asked the NCAA to drop the minimum number of sports required for Division I membership, but Power 5 programs didn’t sign on.
The roar of a potential rift between the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ of collegiate athletics has been calling out for years. While some mid-major programs have been able to cash big checks as a result of football success, most, including notably UConn, have struggled financially under pressure to find ways to try and keep up with the deep pockets of their Power 5 counterparts.
Schools like Texas A&M and UCLA and NC State have very different pressures than schools like East Carolina and Akron. The former will always fill their enrollment quota, will always sell out their football games, and have huge student bodies, endowments, and alumni bases to turn to if they need to cover the costs of temporary downturns. In the good times, they have money to spend on water slides for their football teams and Playstation-ready lockers for their athletes. The latter have to take big risks in search of big rewards from investments like bigger football stadiums or coaching contract buyouts. Those risks are causing lingering headaches for many of these programs.
Could coronavirus be the wedge that finally drives these two groups apart? While it would dramatically change the way we all view college sports, and would hit at the heart of some of the best archetypes in collegiate athletics* it sometimes feels as though this could benefit all parties.
Author’s note: archetypes like the underdog story, which is one of the best things about college athletics.