NCAA holds session concerning the protection of Olympic sports at its national convention in Nashvil

By Gary Abbott | Jan. 10, 2003, 12 a.m. (ET)
As part of the NCAA Convention held this weekend at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel and Convention Center in Nashville, Tenn., the NCAA held an association-wide session concerning the future of Olympic sports opportunities in college athletics. The association-wide session was entitled "Protecting Student-Athlete Opportunities: The future of Olympic Sport Sponsorship at NCAA Institutions." Five speakers were given an opportunity to present their viewpoints, and were able to answer questions from the audience. This may be the first time that the NCAA has held such a prominent public discussion about the loss of Olympic sports opportunity, especially for male athletes, at its most important function of the year. A number of representatives from the Olympic national governing bodies, as well as the coaches associations from Olympic sports, were there to support the discussion. Kyle Kallander, the Commissioner of the Big South Conference, served as moderator. Kallander is the chair of the NCAA Olympic Sports Liaison Committee, which played an instrumental role in getting this session on the NCAA Convention schedule. Kallander made his own remarks to open the discussion, noting how important this issue is to his committee. He said the discussion was not about Title IX, downsizing football or training athletes for the Olympic Games. "This is about opportunity for collegiate athletes in a broad-based program," said Kallander. He discussed that it is not just about wrestling and gymnastics, citing sports such as swimming, tennis and track and field as sports facing similar challenges with the loss of opportunity. He noted a number of ideas that his committee was discussing on ways to better support Olympic sports programs. "The most important thing to address on the issue is a philosophical approach, that a broad-based program is vital. That philosophy is slowly eroding on our campuses," said Kallander. "As we discuss issues within the NCAA, opportunity for student-athletes should be at the top or near the top of our list." The first speaker was Jim Scherr, acting CEO of the U.S. Olympic Committee and its Managing Director of Sport Performance. Scherr noted the importance of the college community to the Olympic movement and reached out to the NCAA in an effort to maintain a strong and healthy relationship between the organizations. "This is of critical importance to the performance of the U.S. Olympic Committee," said Scherr. "This is the main feeder system for the Olympic team, and for our Olympic success." Scherr noted that 84% of the athletes who win medals for the USA in the Summer Olympics come from sports that are traditional NCAA sports. He noted that the USA wins five or more medals in only five sports, while other nations often win five medals in up to 10 sports programs. He noted the top three medal-producing sports for the United States are track and field, swimming and wrestling, all NCAA-sponsored sports. He stated that keeping these sports strong on the college level was critical to American medal performance. Scherr also explained how the use of proportionality for Title IX compliance threatened men's teams in the future, especially with the trend of increased women students on college campuses. He used specific NCAA student-athlete participation numbers to make his point that thousands of opportunities for male athletes could be eliminated if strict proportionality were enforced across the board at the NCAA level. "We know your jobs as educators and administrators is not to win Olympic medals" said Scherr. "However, it is a by-product of your programs. Many times, student-athletes enter your programs seeking to go on to participate at the Olympic Games." Scherr noted that new governance structure of the USOC, as developed in its reform process, would no longer guarantee a position on its Board of Directors for the school/college community. He was hopeful that one of the elected positions on the Board might go to someone from the school/college community. "This is a relationship that we value," said Scherr. "We are very concerned about this relationship." Scherr announced that the USOC has proposed a new USOC/NCAA Task Force concerning Olympic sports. Among the goals of this proposed group would be to look at alternate funding sources, look at NCAA legislation and to develop NCAA recognition programs for Olympic sports athletes. He also noted that the USOC was considering adding a employee to work full-time on the USOC-NCAA relationship and cooperative activities. "We think that student-athletes as part of the Olympic pipeline are valuable" said Scherr. "They are better students and have worthwhile goals. We are willing to put our resources and work behind this issue." Christine Grant, the women's athletic director emeritus at the Univ. of Iowa, gave a presentation laden with statistics about men's participation rates. The contention of her speech was that spending on football and men's basketball was escalating out of control, and was responsible for the challenges faced by the "so-called men's minor sports." Her first statistics, taken from a GAO study as well as from the NCAA, indicated that men's opportunity, using net numbers, had not declined. She noted an increase in the number of teams and athletes within the NCAA for men, and also stated that more teams have been added than dropped for men's sports. Grant's charts showed that men's teams had gained on the Div. II and III levels, but dropped on the Div. I level. (Editor's note: The statistics from the GAO report as well as the NCAA's net numbers have been challenged as misleading by groups seeking Title IX reform.) "These are the programs that have the very largest budgets in the country" said Grant about the Div. I level where men's sports have declined. Grant said that only about 40 college athletic programs in the nation make a profit, and that all the rest exist with deficit spending. She also provided statistics concerning the increase in expenses on football and basketball, and how the percentage of spending on those two sports has increased dramatically as a percentage of athletic department spending. "Men's so-called minor sports are being financially frozen out of existence" said Grant. "There are growing deficits at all levels. We are at a crossroads. I find it ironic that when they drop so-called men's minor sports, what are they really saving? 2% of the budget at best!!!" Mary Gardner, the athletic director at Bloomsburg Univ. (Pa.) gave her assessment of the broad-based program at her campus and on Div. II campuses. She noted that her college has 20 sports (10 for each gender), including a Div. I wrestling team. "We have tried to capitalize on the opportunity to offer the best, most broad-based programs" Gardner said. "We are committed to a broad-based program." Gardner noted that her university was unique, in that it had to raise funds for its scholarship programs. Successful summer sports camps are a major source of revenue for the scholarship program. She noted that Pennsylvania has a strong high school population that comes to camps and allows them to raise funds for all sports. Gardner said that Div. II schools have worked hard to maintain strong commitment to Olympic sports. "Div. II has taken a look at this issue, and is putting their money where their mouth is, by giving more money to those schools with broad-based programs" said Gardner. "Perhaps other schools, when looking at this, will take this idea into consideration. Just get the right coach in the right program, and you will get people to come out and the program can succeed." Carlisle Carter, the commission of the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, gave a Div. III perspective. He noted that his conference has been able to remain relat