Tuesday, September 29, 2020

V 10 N. 69 Reflections on Another Track Program Biting the Dust

 Over the past few weeks, I've received several notices about the University of Minnesota dropping their track program.  There have been some impassioned pleas to find ways of keeping it as well as condemnations from former Golden Gopher athletes and track coaches from other universities.  Here is my way of looking at the problem.  Nothing new here but gives me a chance to vent on the age of cost cutting provoked in part by our little virus that is altering life around the world.  Who would have thought a year ago that something we cannot see under a light microscope would have brought us to our knees in this world?

Here are my thoughts as a former college track athlete (U. of Oklahoma 1965), coach  (Wittenberg U. and U. of Dayton), and current track blogger. (Once Upon a Time in the Vest).

We all know what the problem is, but we just don't want to admit it or see it through all the smoke and mirrors.  We are parties to the corporate, capitalist phenomenon of growth as the only measure of success. 

Today our institutions and university programs are bloated with administrators, admin assistants, advisors, compliance advisors, security, government compliance officers, consultants,  and that has been  passed on down to all university departments including intercollegiate athletics which is of course living under the curse of win at all costs, and costs be damned.  The university president is often judged by the success of the football team rather than the rest of the university 'mission'.   George L. Cross, president of Oklahoma University in the 1960's once tongue in cheek said,  "I want to build a university our football team can be proud of."  He was not far from the truth.

  Coaching staffs are bloated in all sports.  In track and field it is somewhat accurate that for success, one  has to specialize in a single area of coaching  jumping, polevaulting,  throwing, sprinting, hurdling, middle distance, or  distance, and God knows whatever 'directors of operations' do.  We chase qualifying times by sending athletes and their hand-maiden coaches to events all over the country on any given weekend.  There is a team effort only at the conference meets and the NCAA regionals and nationals.

  Recruiting and having the fanciest equipment, dressing rooms , weight rooms, training rooms, tutors, sports psychologists, dining halls,   and athletic villages have driven budgets into the stratosphere ( sorry, old terminolgy).    It's all about winning as a team and to have a team you have to have a bunch of extremely talented individuals, and the pool is narrow and shallow from which to recruit.   

No one likes to hear about the 'old days' but those programs were managed with a skeleton crew of a head coach, and a grad assistant, and maybe one retiree coach who hung on 'til he died.   Yes, many of us had to coach ourselves, because the sport was too broad and the coaches had limited knowledge, and almost  zero scientific knowledge.    In basketball, a team had a head coach, and an assistant who also coached the freshman team.  The head coach probably had one other person to do everything else including writing the checks and organizing the team trips.   I won't even attempt to classify all the jobs in the modern Sports Information departments which used to be a one person operation with perhaps an administrative assistant that we used to call a secretary.

Today, any one sports program is bigger in personnel than a whole athletic department was at one of the major universities in the 1960s.  

Going to university on your own cost about 20 per cent of a working class family's budget for a year.  It was almost doable for a family with one kid in college provided he or she had a job to help pay costs. 

Today, If your family is working class earning about 40K, a kid is doomed to community college and working half time to get to school.  No time for sports.    One thing that needs to be re-iterated is many of those families with kids in country club sports are fairly wealthy and they are paying full tuition to send their kid to a school to study and compete in golf, swimming, tennis, rowing, and maybe cross country/track, so there is some significant income going into the university pot from those families.  That is not the case with sports dominated by African American kids' families if they are coming from low income homes. 

So we may be at a turning point in college sport.  I believe Covid has sent us past the tipping point, and a major re-evaluation will need to be done in how we approach sport at the university level.  This was beginning to  happen even before Covid.    I think in five years we may not recognize college athletics, based on today's experience.   I do not believe that administrators in power will  voluntarily cut back on their own earnings, but they will cut back on others' by total elimination of positions or programs.  Budgets will decrease to within reason,  but those employees who are still around will still be overpaid.   We all know that there are only one or two states in the country where the highest paid public official is not a football or basketball coach.  I think North Dakota is one of a few.   I don't think that will change.  We are too ingrained with that culture.  If it ain't bigger, it cain't be better.

Agree with all your comments. Gary Wilson at U of Minnesota ran for me at Cortland, so I’m fully aware of that situation. I’d have leaned heavier on football and over administrative costs. Weren’t we luck we lived in a time when we played sports for fun and no cost. ?  Dave Costill


Hope you are fine.. Enjoyed reading your latest column on the blog about the state of college athletics.
Personally I'd prefer to see the entire system crash and copy the European clubs. Having athletics and academics together is a perfect recipe for disaster with cheating and corruption. Starts in little league and pop warner football, continues into high school and is compounded when it reaches the college level.
It's a total money losing proposition  and relies solely on asking alumni for constant support and contributions.
The club system isn't perfect but much better than our current college state of affairs. The court ruling years ago against the AAU and supporting the NCAA in retrospect just compounding today's situation.
I lived overseas for many years and joined a club. Some are political, religious,
companies, military police , city or regional etc.... You need to sign a card right off and once it's signed you're signed a contract that binds you to that respective organization. Not like the American system where high schoolers can play at a different high school every year and not be penalized, or college athletics transferring at a whim with to valid reason and leaving coaches wondering why everything has gone sideways.
In a club the only way to switch to another club your card must be agreed by both clubs and usually a fair way to both the respective club and the athletes.
The U.S. can easily change into a club system with the infrastructure already in place. I see american football as possibly the only major problem but all other sports  ( namely soccer track, basketball, tennis, ice hockey, baseball, swimming etc.) already having  clubs. Perhaps the next U.S. administration  appoint a new sports czar to direct such a change in our sports system. Something  that would look at sports for children all the way to our professional level.
If I would have done it all over again I would have joined a club right out of high school and paid my own for attending college. Perhaps even run for a club overseas?
Yes, looking at the current college situation during the covid 19 disaster has affecting all sports. Likely to cut all minor sports and the firing of all coaches and administrators. 

1 comment:

Frank Deramus said...

Well written George! The money sports are dominating college athletics and, in my opinion, there is not enough emphasis on individual sports such as track and field!

V 10 N. 72 Remembering Charlie Moore Olympic Gold 1952 400IH R.I.P.

Walt Murphy brought this news to our attention on his blog This Day in Track and Field. The notes below are from Olympedia....