The United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee College Sports Sustainability Think Tank, a group assembled to “address the loss of collegiate Olympic and Paralympic sport opportunities in the wake of COVID-19,” released its final recommendations around four topics — sport sustainability, sport structure, vertical partnerships and Paralympic inclusion.
The think tank was co-chaired by University of Florida Athletic Director Scott Stricklin and USOPC CEO Sarah Hirshland. From the aquatics world, the group also included U.S. National Team swimmer Sierra Schmidt, Paralympic swimmer Justin Zook, and water polo Olympian Maddie Musselman, Olympic water polo coach Adam Krikorian, and CSCAA Executive Director Greg Earhart.
“The USOPC Think Tank is proud to move these ideas into action with the NCAA national office and membership,” said Scott Stricklin, University of Florida athletic director and USOPC Think Tank co-chair. “Now is the time to think creatively to preserve our broad-based collegiate sports infrastructure.”
Regarding sport sustainability, the group issued two recommendations — one specifically about delaying the recruiting timeline for swimming and diving. As of 2019, coaches could begin contacting students on June 15 following their sophomore year of high school, with official visits permissible starting Aug. 1. At the time of that change, the CSCAA requested — and was denied — an exemption to have the swim and dive recruiting window open later.
The new recommendation doesn’t give a detailed timeline but suggests that the recruiting process would begin in the senior year of high school.
Full list of recommendations:
- Recommendation 1: Develop a customized recruiting plan for swimming and diving to initiate the recruiting process during a prospect’s senior year of high school. By delaying initial contact, limiting visits and implementing a contained recruiting calendar, the adjustments will alleviate pressures on prospects, ease the time burden on athletes and coaches, and increase operational efficiencies.
- Recommendation 2: Allow flexible engagement with prospective and elite male gymnasts by deregulating men’s gymnastics recruiting rules around clubs, tryouts, camps/clinics and national teams. These changes would allow varsity programs to partner with youth programs and USA Gymnastics to share facilities, streamline expenses and generate revenue through expanded camps/clinics.
- Recommendation 3: Build and pilot an Olympic Sustainability Membership Category, modeled after the NCAA Emerging Sports for Women structure, to test regulatory flexibility for low-sponsored sports. Flexibility may include multidivisional membership and nimble conference affiliation to ease scheduling burdens and strengthen regional partnerships.
- Recommendation 4: Formalize USOPC and NCAA organizational alignment by expanding the existing USOPC/NCAA cooperation agreement to mechanize leadership-level connections, sport-level partnerships, communications collaboration and project-specific engagement.
- Recommendation 5: Establish partnerships to achieve NCAA championships efficiencies through (1) National Governing Body/NCAA championships hosting partnerships, (2) NGB/NCAA efficiency partnerships and/or (3) NGB/NCAA auxiliary partnerships. Pilot concepts are intended to increase operational efficiencies, open revenue opportunities and enhance the student-athlete experience.
- Recommendation 6: Pilot Olympic and Paralympic Games content sharing and develop a recognition program to increase storytelling and elevate national awareness of the role colleges play in developing Olympians and Paralympians. Over time, these efforts may strengthen commercial interest in the collegiate Olympic and Paralympic marketplace.
- Recommendation 7: Bring stakeholders together to launch the USOPC/NCAA Para-College Inclusion Project. This includes conducting research on national adaptive sport programming, collectively promoting adaptive sports, and connecting school leaders, adaptive programs and U.S. Paralympic leaders to strengthen sport structures.
The recommendations will now be reviewed by various NCAA committees.
According to the USOPC, more than 100 Division I sports programs were dropped “as an early result of the pandemic” — non-revenue sports like tennis and swimming were among the hardest hit.
More than 75% of the U.S. Olympic Team for the Tokyo Games competed in the NCAA (at 171 schools) and more than 50% of the Paralympic Team competed in college across 76 schools. For winter sports, more than one-third of the 2018 U.S. Olympic Team competed in college (48 schools) and 25% of the Paralympic team did as well (14 schools).
“We are incredibly excited about these recommendations, motivated to see them put into practice, and grateful to all of our USOPC Think Tank members for dedicating their time and energy to this important effort,” Hirshland said. “These recommendations lay the foundation for greater partnerships moving forward, and together we can work to keep Olympic and Paralympic sport opportunities strong on campus.”