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RealView Sports by William Broussard

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He cuts left … he cuts right … he does not score!

How cuts to college athletics will further challenge community development nationwide

In Bowled Over, a poignant analysis of the parallel transformations of college football in American society over the last five decades, Michael Oriardi makes a point that is all at once ever-present yet eliding to most sports fans. For Oriardi, who played college football in a small town called South Bend in the 1960’s:

“The pageantry of cheerleaders and pep rallies and  pregame bonfires and marching bands, the entire social world of homecoming and the football weekend, the role it played in the American educational system and in binding (emphasis added) schools to their local communities […] (football) was distinctly American.”

                                                          — Michael Oriardi, Bowled Over, p. 23

I’ve never thought of cuts to athletics as a threat to a community’s binding, nor of cuts to higher education, the likes of which are being leveled nationwide, as ‘community cutting,’ before now. But it makes perfect, tragic, sense, as Oriardi all too astutely points out, and this fallout is being experienced nationwide.

In Iowa, the state legislature’s decision to remove state subsidies from college athletics means that the University of Northern Iowa will lose millions in scholarship support and face a reduction of as much as 40% of its $11.5 mil budget (http://bit.ly/bwBRkB).  Obviously, absorbing this substantial a cut will mean a dramatic change to UNI Athletics, which boasts a nationally competitive FCS football team (Super Bowl MVP Kurt Warner is a UNI product) and, most recently, a Cinderella Sweet 16 participant in the 2010 March Madness NCAA basketball tournament.  The larger impact may be felt in Cedar Falls, Iowa, which by many standards is a quintessentially successful American town.  With 36,000 people, a median income over $70,000, and fewer than 5% of the population living at or below the federal poverty level, obviously Cedar Falls has found a way to weather one of the worst economic downturns in American history, and it is no doubt dependent upon Northern Iowa for this success.  With a student population and university staff representing nearly 40% of the town’s population and a university that provides many of the jobs that buoy the median salary in town, any cut to UNI is a de facto cut to Cedar Rapids.  Cuts to athletics, in particular, potentially reduces the university’s ability to raise revenues, especially in light of their recent successes in men’s basketball, and the university’s ability to recruit new students and market itself.

As of yet, few announcements have been made about cuts at UNI, but in order to help their university absorb over $10 million in cuts in 2009, the University of Vermont shuttered its softball and baseball programs.  Their baseball program in particular boasts a 122 year history (http://bit.ly/biRBs0) and nearly 1,500 wins.  Only 18 MLB players have come from the program and they’ve only won a couple of conference championships. The most wins they ever had in a season was 32 (very modest) and their career leader in wins is a coach whose record is barely above .500.  As a non-revenue generating sport that does not bring prestige to the institution, the Catamount Baseball program seems to be one that is a prime target for a university athletic department to shed.  However, according to Oriardi’s “binding” metaphor, it certainly stands to reason that in its 122 year history, this baseball program has endeared itself to individuals far beyond the reach of Burlington, VT.  In particular, however, right there in Burlington, a town that relies heavily upon the University of Vermont for jobs and regional economic stimulation, thousands of people have petitioned on behalf of the reinstatement of the baseball programs, for reasons not just economic, but cultural, traditional, and even patriotic (see petition and comments: http://www.thepetitionsite.com/1/UVM-Athletics).

In another controversial legislative decision, the North Carolina legislature decided to rescind a 5-year old state subsidy of out of state funding for all students, including student-athletes (http://bit.ly/xFSjS). Again, this is a remedy that seems all too easily administered to many people outside of the areas of the state that depend heavily upon state universities for their economy and culture.  Why would North Carolina incentivize student enrollment at its institutions for people from outside the state at taxpayer’s expense after all? It’s not as if basketball recruiting at UNC or Duke will be negatively impacted by this decision (Duke is privately funded, UNC’s $62 million budget and ability to fundraise privately will absorb the reductions).  However, for all of the “UNC-” institutions – Greensboro, Asheville, Charlotte, Wilmington, etc., the impact will be tremendous.  UNC’s system is one of the most comprehensive in the country with 17 campuses and 5 historically black colleges/universities (HBCU) and spreads from one end of the state to the other.  Never mind the national championships at Appalachian State and UNC-Chapel Hill, and the hundreds of athletic contests each year that engage student-athletes, communities, and campuses, consider the economic ramifications of this legislation. The measure was supposed to save money, right? Well, the $13.9 million that this measure will save will more than be cancelled out if it significantly reduces the $300 million spent by out of state students annually in North Carolina (“Economic Benefits in North Carolina of the University of North Carolina Campuses”).  Bad fiscal policy, stoked by xenophobic pandering, and the same threat to the athletic ties that bind these 17 communities. 

 If we continue along this track unabated, anyone who thinks that cuts to athletics in the name of reducing state expenditures is sound fiscal policy will soon have their answer in the form of communities, recently gutted of economic opportunity and devoid of longstanding athletic culture and traditions. Not every community will experience tumbleweed rolling along mainstreet the way ground balls would hop on along recently vacated fields. But for every tradition lost, another must replace it, and there’s a long way down from having sporting events to attend and participate in.

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Written by demon53

July 17, 2010 at 1:01 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response

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  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Daniel Arlt, william broussard. william broussard said: RealView Sports by William Broussard: http://wp.me/pQ8Eb-jR […]


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