Conference realignment and the threat to college track

LOS ANGELES, Sep. 26, 2011 – I’m not totally sure of this, but the Pac-12’s refusal to expand to 16 teams might have saved a lot of college track programs.

The thinking goes something like this:

(1) If the Pac-12 had added Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas and Texas Tech, the eventual result was widely projected to include four 16-team conferences in football: Pac-16, Big 10, SEC and some form of a Northeast Conference made up of Big East and Atlantic Coast Conference members.

(2) If so, it is then entirely possible that these 64 teams – the big football schools – might break away from the NCAA and form their own governing body for football only, leaving behind the Conference USA, Mid-American, Mountain West and other small conferences. This would allow, among other advantages, a revision of the scholarship rules to allow more than the current 85.

(3) In order to either (a) keep these schools from leaving, or (b) help with cost reduction for those who remain, or (c) both, the NCAA might agree to changes in its rules to help the “bottom line” such as:

• A reduction in the number of sports sponsored by a Division I (i.e., basketball) school. The rule is currently that a Division I school must “sponsor at least seven sports for men and seven for women (or six for men and eight for women) with two team sports for each gender.”

(Division II and III schools must at least five sports for men and five for women, (or four for men and six for women), with two team sports for each gender.)

• A further reduction in the number of scholarships allowed in other sports, including track & field.

The result: less schools sponsoring track & field.

Even though the track scholarship limits – in a sport which has 21 events for both men and women at the national level – are absurdly low at 12.6 for men and 18 for women, it is not lost on athletic directors that track is a relatively expensive sport:

• The men’s track limits are higher than every other men’s sport except football (85), ice hockey (18) and basketball (13) and equal to lacrosse. There are 12 men’s sports which give fewer scholarships.

• For women, the track limit of 18 equals the second-most of any sport. Only rowing (20) has more and ice hockey also has 18. There are 17 women’s sports which cost less.

And let’s not get started on the number of coaches in track, or the upkeep of a track & field facility with its recreational joggers, jumping areas, runways, throwing areas and so on.

Track is expensive, and if the football schools are looking for ways to trim costs in order to add football scholarships . . . or just be better off financially, it’s an easy program to cut or trim substantially.

For now, the Pac-12 held off adding any new members and the Big 12, Big East and ACC haven’t collapsed yet. But as Syracuse head basketball coach Jim Boeheim said last week, “It’s always been about football.”

Which means, in the very near future, it may be even less about track & field.

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  1. These are interesting considerations. I had thought of the possibility of the 64-team spin-off, if not forming a new governing body, perhaps forcing another “tiered” division. I had not thought that it might make sense to the powers that be to increase the cap on football scholarships. Another thing to keep in mind if that were to happen, is that such in increase in football scholarships would likely result in a decrease in men’s scholarships for other sports, due in part mostly to finances but partly for the worthy cause of gender equity. If in the event this were to occur, I doubt that those making the rules would consider that a) football already has one of the highest percentage of full scholarships per capita on a roster (basketball has the highest), and b) men’s track has one of the lowest percentage of full scholarships per capita on a roster. Another fact that is missed today and would no doubt be missed by the NCAA powers under a scenario as outlined, is that a full scholarship is quite substantial. As a former D-I scholarship cross country runner, I received something in the ballpark of a 45% scholarship, which nearly covered all of my expenses- so these football players getting full rides are doing quite well, and even if the 85 football scholarships were distributed evenly (something that will never happen due to player ego), every football player would be doing quite well financially in a college setting.

    NCAA president Mark Emmert made statements yesterday scorning the stated reasons for conference realignment (revenue) and the absence of statements regarding what was in the best interest of the athletes. Completely hypocritical statements coming from an NCAA official in my opinion. Regardless, I agree with those statements. Greater geographic conferences will require increased travel time for student-athletes across all sports, some will be impacted more than others (i.e. the sports requiring competition against all or nearly all conference opponents).

    The more and more decisions are made based on purely a dollar and sense basis, the more validity is added to the absurd arguments to abolish amateurism in college athletics.

  2. Are you aware that those scholarship pools often fund three sports, as do the facility and staff budgets? With XC, indoors and outdoors, the athletic directors can get three of their seven sports covered with their “track and field” athletes.

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