USOPC Announces Details of College Sports Sustainability Think Tank

The United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC) has announced the details of phase one of their College Sports Sustainability Think Tank. 

This is following a season filled with an unprecedented amount of collegiate sports cuts that displayed the extent of instability in college athletics. Tennis, cross country, golf, and swimming and diving teams were among the hardest hit, losing a total of 66, 36, 35 and 23 programs, respectively, during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Phase one focuses on sport sustainability, sport structure, and vertical partnerships, according to the press release they sent out today:

  • “Sport sustainability. Olympic and Paralympic sports need more flexibility to manage sport-specific expenses and generate revenue in a cost effective manner. Modifications of current policies may reduce operating costs, including recruiting expense reductions and streamlined regionalized competition, and open access to new resources, including increased collaboration with youth sport programs and national team partnerships.
     
  • “Sport structure. The NCAA legacy of broad-based sport sponsorship at the Division I level should be upheld. Preserving this structure may benefit from collaborative sport management with National Governing Bodies through shared costs, policy alignment and collective promotion of the sport pathway. Through partnerships with NGBs, the NCAA sport sponsorship umbrella could extend flexible membership requirements, agile season operations and sport-specific rules customization to help declining Olympic and Paralympic sports manage within the realities of each sport ecosystem.
     
  • “Vertical partnerships. Many Olympic and Paralympic sports rights are bundled with football and basketball agreements, which may limit exposure and commercial opportunities. There could be great opportunities for the NCAA, schools and NGBs to partner on sport-specific competitions to facilitate new avenues to increase awareness, exposure and commercial opportunities within each sport. Early efforts could include piloting partnerships around the NCAA championships and/or NGB events, and over time could expand to include content sharing plan and school recognition programs.”

“We are eager to roll up our sleeves and get to work on transitioning these concepts from ideas into actionable recommendations later this spring,” Sarah Hirshland, USOPC CEO and member of the College Sports Sustainability Think Tank, said in the press release. She predicts the USOPC will be able to turn these ideas into “actionable recommendations” later this spring.

The chairs of the College Sports Sustainability Think Tank include University of Alabama director of athletics Greg Byrne, University of Texas chief of staff and executive senior associate athletics director Chris Plonsky, and University of Oregon athletic director Rob Mullens. They led the three working groups which developed the phase one concepts during the fall of 2020.

The main reason given for cutting programs, across these schools, were athletic budgets. Budget deficits were exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic which did not allow the largest money-earning sports like football to compete and raise athletic funds. 

Since these cuts, the swimming and diving programs of William and Mary (men and women), Iowa (women), Dartmouth (men and women), East Carolina (women), have been reinstated after Title IX allegations. In the case of William and Mary, the men’s team was only guaranteed “at least through 2021-2022.” Dartmouth swimming and diving was also given a time limit on their security: 5 years.

Full Press Release

COLORADO SPRINGS, COLO. –  The United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee today announced phase one priorities for the USOPC College Sports Sustainability Think Tank, which includes three concepts focused on sport sustainability, sport structure and vertical partnerships. The concepts were generated through three working groups, which convened during the fall of 2020 and were chaired by Greg Byrne, University of Alabama director of athletics, Chris Plonsky, University of Texas chief of staff and executive senior associate athletics director, and Rob Mullens, University of Oregon athletic director.

“We are grateful for the hard work, creativity and dedication of the USOPC College Sports Sustainability Think Tank members during this turbulent time in our history,” said Sarah Hirshland, USOPC CEO and member of the USOPC Think Tank. “We are eager to roll up our sleeves and get to work on transitioning these concepts from ideas into actionable recommendations later this spring.”

Developed by the USOPC Think Tank, the concepts emphasize partnerships across the collegiate space and Olympic and Paralympic movements, and recognize that increased alignment can result in operational efficiencies, untapped revenues and a unified vision of the sport pathway for athletes.

  • Sport sustainability. Olympic and Paralympic sports need more flexibility to manage sport-specific expenses and generate revenue in a cost effective manner. Modifications of current policies may reduce operating costs, including recruiting expense reductions and streamlined regionalized competition, and open access to new resources, including increased collaboration with youth sport programs and national team partnerships.
  • Sport structure. The NCAA legacy of broad-based sport sponsorship at the Division I level should be upheld. Preserving this structure may benefit from collaborative sport management with National Governing Bodies through shared costs, policy alignment and collective promotion of the sport pathway. Through partnerships with NGBs, the NCAA sport sponsorship umbrella could extend flexible membership requirements, agile season operations and sport-specific rules customization to help declining Olympic and Paralympic sports manage within the realities of each sport ecosystem
  • Vertical partnerships. Many Olympic and Paralympic sports rights are bundled with football and basketball agreements, which may limit exposure and commercial opportunities. There could be great opportunities for the NCAA, schools and NGBs to partner on sport-specific competitions to facilitate new avenues to increase awareness, exposure and commercial opportunities within each sport. Early efforts could include piloting partnerships around the NCAA championships and/or NGB events, and over time could expand to include content sharing plan and school recognition programs.

“The ideas we’re exploring certainly push the envelope in thinking, but that’s exactly what’s needed as we face unprecedented times,” said Scott Stricklin, USOPC Think Tank chair and University of Florida athletic director. “Developing these concepts required collaboration across schools, conferences, athletes, coaches, NGBs, the NCAA and the USOPC, which speaks to the deep conviction we share to protect broad-based varsity sports.”

Over the next several months, the USOPC Think Tank will convene project teams and industry experts to further explore the above areas.

“Like so many athletes, I will forever be grateful for my college experience,” said Daria Schneider, Harvard University head fencing coach, USOPC board member and former Team USA fencer. “Rallying so many stakeholders to tackle the issue of sport sustainability and growth is something that will serve generations to come. At the end of the day, athletes want every chance to train, learn and compete, and our USOPC Think Tank is passionate about preserving broad-based opportunities.”

Following a deep-dive within each concept area, actionable recommendations will be developed by the full USOPC Think Tank and shared with the USOPC Collegiate Advisory Council for review. Final recommendations will be shared with the NCAA, college leaders and USOPC board, and more information is available online at TeamUSA.org/ThinkTank.

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Willy
8 months ago

Finally. We are going to need to be more proactive and collaborative moving forward. For the first time in a long time, I have a sliver of optimism.

Doug Garner
8 months ago

Fantastic – would love to be involved in the think tank if you are looking for volunteers!