Shortly after the exciting, action-packed conclusions to the men’s and women’s NCAA swimming & diving seasons, college swimming fans got some sobering commentary from Yahoo Sports and the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC).
Amidst the finale of the college basketball season, Yahoo reports that the USOC is concerned about the possibility of schools cutting their non-revenue and Olympic sports in the near future.
In the Yahoo Sports piece, USOC CEO Scott Blackmun said the Olympic Committee was “candidly, very concerned” that Olympic and non-revenue sports would see future cuts as money continues to swell into the revenue-producing sports of football and basketball.
The landscape of NCAA athletics could be entering a state of upheaval in the near future, given the new autonomy given to the ‘Power 5’ conferences to determine their own rules, and the growing movement to pay college athletes above and beyond scholarship dollars.
The growing concern is that paying college football and basketball players will ultimately cause schools to cut Olympic and non-revenue sports to balance their budgets.
In this excerpt from the Yahoo Sports piece, Blackmun lays out the dollars-and-cents explanation for why this could be the case:
“We’re not against giving college athletes much-improved medical care, four-year scholarships, full cost of attendance,” Blackmun said. “Our concern is that the inevitable impact of these changes is coming down on Olympic sports. We’ve seen estimates that athletic departments will have to spend an additional $2 million to $3 million per year to cover these costs. That’s the cost of operating two or three Olympic sports programs.
A few of the more swimming-centric statistics the Yahoo story drops:
- Since the 1980s, about 50 schools have dropped their men’s swimming & diving programs, including the College of Charleston just this season.
- 65% of the U.S. Olympic team in London (for all sports) trained for their sport in college.
- An NCAA study found that men’s swimming and women’s gymnastics were the two highest sports in terms of athletes identifying as both students and athletes. 69% of male swimmers strongly identified with the combination of student and athlete, compared to just 61% for basketball.
The Yahoo Sports story also reiterates something Hogshed-Makar mentioned to SwimSwam in her interview: that the autonomy schools in the 5 biggest athletic conferences could choose to lower the required minimum number of sports each school must offer. The number currently stands at 14, and if the Power 5 conferences drop that number, non-revenue sports like swimming would be among the likely candidates for cutting at schools across the nation.
Yahoo Sports also floated the idea of changing college championships in Olympic sports to make them more profitable. A few options for swimming are to move the NCAA Championships back to February – hoping to grab a bigger audience and more media coverage by avoiding college basketball’s March Madness – or turning the national championships into a tournament-style bracket of one-on-one dual meets between teams.
Cal men’s coach Dave Durden was quoted, speculating some on that possiblity, but also asking perhaps the biggest question in the sport of swimming right now:
“A dual meet can be fan-friendly,” California men’s coach Dave Durden said. “It can typically fit into 90 minutes to two hours with [TV] production. We have a great audience for our sport every four years, but how can we grab that audience at other times? We’ve got to figure out how to make that every-four-year audience an every-year audience.”