Peterson: Pandemic provides college sports programs a chance to fix deep-rooted problems
This is why it’s important that college administrators re-think the huge amounts of money they pay their major coaches:
- Akron has cut men’s golf and cross-country, and women’s tennis.
- Old Dominion has cut wrestling
- Cincinnati has done likewise with men’s soccer.
- And late last week — Bowling Green did away with baseball.
Power Five programs have escaped the axe. However, it’d be naïve to think their buffet of men’s and women’s sports are forever safe.
Thus, one of the discussion points after (if) the coronavirus pandemic passes should deal with the gigantic amounts of money some college coaches receive.
Athletic budgets are under the microscope right now. Belts are tightening. Free-spending (not everyone, but at some places nationally) must slow down.
** Think about regionalizing non-conference football schedules. Iowa State and Iowa each annually playing Northern Iowa seems a win-win-win — Cyclones and Hawkeyes can save travel money. Panthers can get solid scheduling paydays.
** Maybe “virtual” recruiting could be the wave of the future. If that happens, recruiting budgets can be trimmed.
** And this: Are college coaches overpaid?
Iowa State started a forward-thinking trend a month or so ago when coaches and athletics department staffers agreed to take temporary cuts in salary. Other schools and coaches followed.
I haven’t seen anything about college football’s top three salaried coaches — Clemson’s Dabo Sweeney, Alabama’s Nick Saban and Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh — doing likewise. Maybe they have. Maybe it just hasn’t been reported. Maybe I missed it.
How about the next round of contracts being incentive-heavy, excluding the bowl bonus? Lower the base salary. Tack on money for wins, graduation rates, conference regular and postseason titles, major Coach of the Year awards, making the College Football Playoffs, and winning the College Football playoffs.
This isn’t new stuff. It’s worth another mention, however, because dropping sports has started — and nobody knows how far it could extend.
With all the uncertainty surrounding football, colleges’ ATM for many years, it’s not just a talking point about contracts changing.
It should happen.
I asked Big 12 Conference commissioner Bob Bowlsby about this before the virus smacked us as badly as it’s beating us up now. It was in March — before some schools started cutting programs.
"It should cause us to ponder what is really important in college athletics and life beyond college athletics,” he said then. “You treasure stuff you take for granted. There could be a renewed recognition of how much of a blessing it is to be involved in college athletics.
"When you're up against an opponent like we are, you treasure the things you take for granted.”
Like taking for granted sports that don’t produce revenue, yet produce world-class athletes. Like big coaching salaries.
People probably scoffed at the notion that a pandemic like this would mean shuttering some sports. Well, it’s here.
"We are saddened to have to make this decision, but it's one that was made with the long-term best interest of the athletics program in mind," Old Dominion athletics director Camden Wood Selig said in a statement when wrestling was dropped last month. "No one wants to reduce opportunities for young men to compete and represent Old Dominion, but we are required to be responsible with departmental resources.
“Our decision became even more clear during this coronavirus crisis, which we know will have significant impact on future athletics budgets. This decision will better allow the remaining sports to compete at a national level."
Again, there’s no scuttlebutt about anything like this happening at Power Five schools. Cutting sports isn’t on their platter.
Our Power Five ADs, Jamie Pollard at Iowa State and Gary Barta at Iowa, aren’t in the business of doing that. Their athletics departments can probably weather this without chopping student-athlete offerings.
"You'll see budgets on campus flat and salary budgets flat,” Bowlsby said. “It's not a time when we're going to throw a lot of money around. We're all going to have to be careful about our management of resources."
As Bowlsby wrote The Register in an email late last week:
“So far, it is probably those schools that have been considering dropping sports even before the pandemic. Only time will tell what happens from here on out.”
Time tells some people that it starts with coaching salaries.
David Ridpath, an Ohio University professor and president of the Drake Group, a college athlete advocacy organization, wrote recently:
“Athletic departments can reframe financially, while preserving sports opportunities for all athletes ...
“Currently, there are few constraints on athletics expenditures even at the lower levels of Division I. We can control providing multi-million-dollar coaches’ salaries and contract buy-outs ... We simply just have not done it.
“The old saying, "never waste a good crisis" applies to college athletic finances more than ever before. This is a time for all college sports programs to recalibrate financially, and reassess their place in the college athletics marketplace.”
Iowa State columnist Randy Peterson has been writing for the Des Moines Register for parts of six decades. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org, 515-284-8132, and on Twitter at @RandyPete. No one covers the Cyclones like the Register. Subscribe today at DesMoinesRegister.com/Deal to make sure you never miss a moment.