Anderson Sloan knew the situation all too well.
A transfer from Clemson, which cut its swimming team in 2010, Sloan and the rest of the University of Maryland swimming team were instructed to attend an urgent meeting with coaches before a practice in November 2011.
On that day, Maryland announced the elimination of its swimming program – one that many would argue had a bright future with state-of-the-art facilities and several standout student-athletes – along with eight other sports, in an effort to solve financial troubles amid a football program that raked in less money than almost every other school in college football’s top conferences.
“We have a financial model for two programs, only two programs, which have to subsidize all the rest of the sports,” Maryland President Wallace Loh said in the statement announcing the cuts. “It is a national model that is faulty, that is inequitable and that is unsustainable.”
Around the same time of Sloan experiencing his second round of cuts, Millersville thrower Justin Berg was making plans to transfer to Temple after the Marauders cut their track & field program. After Berg’s first year of competition with the Owls, Temple announced its elimination of seven sports last December – including the 89-year-old men’s track & field program.
Temple’s cuts arrive during a period in collegiate athletics where universities with Division I teams are attempting to keep up with high-performing athletic programs nationwide in an effort to create a model where revenue sports can bring in enough money to sustain entire athletic departments.
For its decision to cut sports, Temple blamed inadequate facilities, issues with gender equity and a slim athletic budget, which doesn’t stack up to most schools in Temple’s new conference – the American Athletic Conference.
The crew and rowing teams were saved after a successful effort to renovate the previously condemned East Park Canoe House, due to a donation from H.F. “Gerry” Lenfest and funding from the city. But five other sports – baseball, softball, men’s gymnastics and men’s indoor and outdoor track & field – remain on the chopping block.
In 2012-13, there were 24 Division I teams dropped throughout the country. Since 1988-89, nearly 5,000 men’s and women’s teams have been eliminated from NCAA institutions.
“In a different era, I would have experienced an uninterrupted career,” Berg said. “This wouldn’t have been a problem.”
Three days before Temple Athletic Director Kevin Clark gathered athletes into the Student Pavilion to deliver the news that his recommendation to cut seven sports was approved by the Board of Trustees, Robert Morris University Athletic Director Craig Coleman was dealing with the effects of terminating seven varsity sports from his own athletic department.
Robert Morris is a much smaller school than Temple in terms of enrollment, but its men’s basketball team has made strides during recent years. Coleman said the cuts came as part of a university-wide initiative aimed at reexamining every aspect of spending. Like Temple’s administration, Coleman said operating more than 20 teams created a system that seemed “a little out of whack.”
“It’s becoming expensive to run these sports,” Coleman said.
Temple and Robert Morris are not alone. In 2012, Maryland followed through with the elimination of seven sports. In 2006, Rutgers cut six sports from its athletic department. Several smaller institutions have also eliminated programs during recent years.
Tennis, golf, rifle and track & field experienced the most cuts in 2012-13. There were also net losses in women’s water polo, women’s bowling and field hockey. Since 1988-89, sports like fencing, skiing and wrestling have shrunk significantly nationwide. There were 59 Division I men’s gymnastics programs in 1981, but after Temple’s cuts take effect this summer there will only be 16 remaining.
Since 1989, there has been a net loss of 322 Division I men’s sports throughout the country, while there has been a net gain of 761 women’s teams. Of the five teams Temple is cutting, only one is a women’s sport – softball. The biggest loss of men’s sports last season was swimming teams. There has also been a decrease of more than 100 wrestling teams since 1988-89.
Universities with football teams typically have more difficulty than other schools in meeting Title IX, a gender equity law passed in 1972, as football rosters usually hold more male student-athletes on scholarship than any other program. Temple will sponsor seven men’s programs and 12 women’s teams after the cuts take effect on July 1.
Temple’s administration blamed the university’s failure to comply with Title IX as a prominent reason for the cuts. In a February interview, Theobald said he would have preferred to simply add another female sport. But with Temple’s budget spread throughout 24 sports – more than any other school in The American – he added that such an option was “not feasible.”
The Temple News was denied an interview for this article with Clark and other administrators.
“Way too often presidents cite Title IX for cutting men’s sports,” Bill Bradshaw, Temple’s athletic director from 2002-13, said in an interview. “I worry about non-revenue men’s sports. Women’s sports will be well funded because of Title IX, but the men have no defense.”
A complaint alleging Temple’s failure to meet Title IX standards was filed with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights after the cuts were announced last December. Theobald said the complaint was not surprising and that he took the issue “extremely seriously.”
FOLLOWING THE MONEY
In Fall 1938, a football game was beamed from the University of Pennsylvania’s Franklin Field to the now-defunct Philco office laboratories. There were reportedly six television sets in Philadelphia at the time, and each one was tuned into the game – the first collegiate sporting event ever aired on screen.
But by the 1980s, broadcasting had caused one of college football’s biggest controversies. In 1981, the NCAA adopted a plan to limit the amount of televised football games and the number any one institution may air. Officials claimed the restrictions were necessary to avoid a decrease in attendance on game day.
The University of Georgia and Oklahoma City fought back with an antitrust suit. The case went to the Supreme Court, which voted 7-2 against the NCAA – a ruling that dramatically shifted the landscape of collegiate sports. The previously imposed barriers were lifted and universities were free to make as much money as they were able to negotiate with networks.
“[The case] created the process of commercialism in college sports,” Warren Zola, an executive director at Boston College’s Carroll School of Management, said. “It gave teams the opportunity to compete for finances.”
But a school’s negotiating power rested with the power of its conference. And within weeks of the Supreme Court ruling, the nation’s top leagues began discussions with major networks. The Big Ten Conference and Pac-10 Conference signed with ABC and the Big East Conference eventually formed a deal with CBS. The College Football Association, an organization formed in 1977 to negotiate TV contracts with networks, disbanded in 1995.
Now, the nation’s “Power 5” – the Atlantic Coast Conference, Southeastern Conference, Big Ten, Big 12 Conference and Pac-12 – hold some of the largest television deals in all of sports, as each one rakes in an average of $229 million per year. The schools that play in these conferences gain the most national exposure, giving their teams immediate accessibility to big-name recruits that often propel them to postseason success – leading to increased revenue from branding, merchandising and other financial ventures.
“The big five conferences in the NCAA are moving toward an unintended monopoly,” Bradshaw said. “The conferences are separating themselves from the pact.”
Temple became a football-only member of the Big East in 1991, but was kicked out in 2004 after a decade of poor performance. After the resurgence led by former coaches Al Golden and Steve Addazio, Temple rejoined the Big East for the 2012 season – bringing most of its other varsity sports with it the following year when the conference transitioned into The American.
Bradshaw, who oversaw the university’s deal to enter the conference, said the discussions of moving the university into The American mostly involved possibilities for revenue sports.
The American signed a deal with ESPN in early 2013 that is reportedly worth $20 million per year, though contract specifics haven’t been made public.
Universities in The American receive far less money than Power 5 schools, but the new conference has provided institutions like Temple with unprecedented exposure. Temple’s football, men’s basketball and women’s basketball teams had record television appearances during their inaugural years in The American.
Theobald and his administration have staunchly denied that revenue sports are behind the cuts. Many of the biggest critics who emerged in the aftermath of Temple’s initial announcement pointed to an underperforming football program as the source of the athletic department’s financial ineptitude.
“They are simply wrong,” Theobald said of the naysayers in an Inquirer op-ed last December. “Any potential savings from reallocating football scholarships to other sports would be more than offset by the resulting loss of television revenue from our conference’s new seven-year contract with ESPN and CBS Sports.”
Theobald, who, unlike his predecessor, can often be seen in the stands at football and basketball games, said in a February interview that he loves the possibilities that collegiate athletics can bring to the university.
“For many alumni, this is the front door,” Theobald said. “I got to meet 10 of our top alumni who were there to see the game and let them know what’s going on. I enjoy being there, but it’s also a way to tell the university’s message to as broad an audience as possible.”
Bradshaw told The Temple News earlier this year that dropping sports was “always under discussion” during the tenures of former presidents Ann Weaver Hart and David Adamany.
Bradshaw avoided cutting any sports during his career at Temple. But on a national scale, he watched several universities drop sports in an increasingly changing industry focused on football and basketball.
“Teams follow the money,” Bradshaw said.
BEHIND THE PACK
As television opportunities have become increasingly lucrative, universities have shifted their efforts on where they are able to make the most money – basketball and football.
According to a report from the college athletics watchdog Knight Commission, the amount of money spent per football player scholarship at FBS schools nearly doubled between 2005 and 2012, going from $82,000 to $153,000.
The 2012-13 BCS Bowl season totaled $202.5 million in revenue last year, distributing between $5 million and $52 million to each conference.
For men’s basketball, the NCAA tournament generated about $1 million per year back in the early 1970s. Now, March Madness generates nearly $1 billion each spring.
“Men’s basketball and football are the drivers of revenue,” Zola said. “So certainly the investment and performance of those teams is critical to the commercialization of intercollegiate athletics.”
“It’s hard to change the interest of consumers,” Zola added.
With revenue sports holding increased power and importance, conference realignment during recent years has been increasingly based on performance as opposed to location.
Coleman said one of the most prominent issues driving athletic cuts nationwide is the realignment of schools based on television revenues from basketball and football, as opposed to “logical geography.”
When Temple joined the Big East in 2012, the conference spanned four time zones. Schools in The American range from Connecticut to Texas – increasing travel expenses for Temple sports that previously competed in an Atlantic 10 Conference where almost every school was within a reasonable driving distance to make an away game a one-day trip.
From the beginning of its transition from the A-10 to The American, Temple was behind the rest of the pack. Many of the university’s non-revenue facilities do not stack up against other schools in The American and Temple’s operating expenses rank lower than most other conference opponents. Theobald said the cuts were largely due to the university’s overreaching in trying to spread its athletic budget across more sports than any other conference opponent.
Revenues for Temple’s football team also fall behind many in the conference. While Rutgers collected $19.5 million on football between 2012-13, Temple gained $13.1 million. Cincinnati made more than $16 million on its football team during the same time frame.
The university will save $2 million to $2.5 million as a result of the athletic cuts, but a spokesperson said last month that the administration is still deciding how to best reallocate the newly available funds.
A few weeks after announcing the athletic cuts at Robert Morris, Coleman’s phone rang. On the other end of the line was a Division I athletic director, who was looking for advice: How did he cut sports? How did he make the decision? When?
Coleman said he has received numerous calls from athletic directors asking the same sorts of questions.
“Clearly there are more coming,” Coleman said.
The elimination of some sports, like swimming, gymnastics and wrestling, is shrinking the amount of opportunities remaining for student-athletes nationwide. The athletic cuts at Maryland ended the career of Sloan, as he opted to stay at the university to continue his education.
“When a team is taken away from an athlete, it takes away that athlete’s friends, his passion and for swimmers – his life,” Sloan said in an email. “I would never wish the cutting of a program upon any athlete, and I sincerely hope that Maryland and other schools across the country can find alternatives to cutting teams.”
Berg, the track thrower who is experiencing his second set of cuts at Temple, will continue his career at Penn State this fall – his third school in four years.
During recent seasons, as revenues have soared for men’s basketball and football, many student-athletes have protested for the ability to receive forms of payment, besides a scholarship, for providing their athletic services to the university.
In March, the National Labor Relations Board ruled that football players at Northwestern are employees of the university and are therefore able to unionize, possibly making the student-athletes eligible to receive forms of payment. In June, an antitrust lawsuit regarding the use of player names and images was filed by former UCLA basketball player Ed O’Bannon. And a new policy formed last week by the NCAA will enable schools to provide unlimited meals to their student-athletes.
If universities are able to provide such luxuries to their student-athletes, critics argue the Power 5 conferences will pull even further away from the pack.
“If they’re able to pay student-athletes, they’ll dominate recruiting,” Bradshaw said. “They already have major advantages with their universities with their location, facilities, conferences. They’re able to compete. With the way it’s going now, the separation is getting more egregious all the time.”
Last week, the NCAA’s board of directors endorsed a 57-page plan that gives more power to schools in the Power 5. These universities would receive more voting power of legislation for schools nationwide. The group would also hold the ability to enact its own rules.
The Power 5 schools would control scholarship logistics, healthcare and funding for families to travel with student-athletes, among other proposals.
As for what the future of collegiate athletics holds, Coleman said he believes the realignment of Division I athletics is causing an “earth-shattering” affect that could lead to the Power 5 becoming “completely unshackled.”
“There will be a greater gap between those five conferences and the rest that don’t have the money,” Coleman said. “An increased pressure for other schools to keep up with the big five. You know what will be the only way to solve it?”
Avery Maehrer and EJ Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.