Cost Cutting Moves at WVU: A Sign of Things to Come at UB?



There is little doubt that the popularity and exposure of the world of sports has increased over the last few decades. The invention of cable stations designed solely for the broadcast of sporting events started a trend that has eventually led now to sports packages available on digital cable and satellite that bring nearly every game on the slate for each of the four major professional sports leagues (the NFL, NBA, MLB, and NHL) right into the viewer's home. Gone now is the allure of the local team; someone living off Maple Road can easily follow the Phoenix Coyotes through an entire season.

This increase in available coverage has, of course, caused an increase in the popularity of America's "high profile" sports. The boost in media attention, however, has not benefited the country's "low profile" sports. For example, some of you might remember a few years ago when ESPN's "Sportscenter" increased from a half hour in length to a full hour every show. Tennis, track, and other low profile sports do not fill that extra half hour - rather it is used for increased analysis and features on the sports that have proven to be the most popular over the years, namely football, basketball and baseball.

As these high profile sports have distanced themselves from other competitions, and more money is spent on these sports which in turn bring immense profits to their universities, it appears that there is another trend on the horizon: the elimination of low profile college sports due to budget constraints.

Citing budget problems, West Virginia University recently cut its number of varsity teams from 21 to 16. Gone are men's tennis, rifle, men's cross-country, men's track, and men's indoor track.

This is West Virginia I'm talking about. This is not a school that is new to Division I competition (like UB). This is not a school with a struggling football program that generates a minimal amount of revenue if any at all (like UB). This is not a school that competes in a mid-major conference (like UB).

It's a sign of things to come all around the country and don't be surprised if UB is making a similar move in the years to come.

Let's consider why West Virginia eliminated these five sports. According to an article written by Shelley Poe on WVU's Official Athletic Site, msnsportsnet.com, the school considered the following variables when deciding to eliminate the programs:

"Financial impact to the department; competitiveness of the sport in the past five years, present and future; viability of the sport on a local, regional and national level; impact on student-athletes; and gender equity."

In a nutshell what does this tell you? It means that these sports were not competitive, they were losing programs and they weren't going to turn it around any time soon, nobody was coming to watch their events, nobody was covering their events in the media, nobody cares about these sports nationally, and they were mostly men's programs and we cannot have too many of those thanks to Title IX.

Am I the only one that sees more than a few of UB's current varsity programs filling this description?

Men's tennis stands out in particular. It is likely that, by the above conditions, if UB needed to cut from the budget that team would be the first to go. Talk to anyone from the program and they will tell you, without more funding there is no way they will ever compete in the Mid-American Conference. The MAC men's tennis league is one of the best in the country because the other schools that participate (minus IUPFW) can afford to bring in some of the top tennis talent from around the world.

UB just does not have the same resources. The team won its first MAC match this year after several winless seasons. But it's not like the team is on its way to a league title. That win came against IUPFW, a member of the MAC for men's tennis only, and a team that amazingly is at an even greater competitive disadvantage than UB.

All told, UB currently features 20 varsity sports - 10 for men and 10 for women - and the school must participate in a certain number of sports to maintain their membership in the MAC. But as budgets get tighter, as the trend seems to indicate, expect that number to decrease like it did at West Virginia

WVU Athletic Director Ed Pastilong summed it up best in his quote found in Poe's story.

"The cost of operating an intercollegiate athletic program at the Division I level is escalating," said Pastilong. "We must bear the cost of facilities, increased tuition costs, and rising operational expenses, including increased security measures and utilities. We're not unlike many schools across the country experiencing the same budget difficulties and faced with similar decisions. We plan to focus our resources on the remaining 16 sports to build quality, competitive programs."

It's a good point, and one that UB Athletic Director Bob Arkielpane could be making in the future.