College sports teams need to help raise moneyby Tom Robertson, Minnesota Public Radio
The men's track and field program at Bemidji State University has been saved from the chopping block. BSU officials were looking to pull the plug on the program, in part, to save money. Instead, the university decided to keep men's track for another year, on the condition that the program do more of its own fund raising.
Bemidji, Minn. — Bemidji State University was on the verge of cutting its men's track program for a couple of reasons.
One was to save money. But the other reason has more to do with Title Nine, the federal law that requires that schools achieve gender equality in team sports offered. Right now, about half of BSU students are women, but women make up only 42 percent of athletes.
Now that the men's track program has been given a one-year reprieve, it means Coach Craig Hougen will have to get creative.
Hougen has been directed to expand the women's track and field program. But he'll have to raise the money to do it. Hougen says he'd much prefer tapping track supporters and alumni for financial help, than lose the program altogether.
"The track and field program can raise more money... so there's proactive, positive things that can happen instead of a negative thing," Hougen said. "It doesn't have to come from university funds."
BSU has been increasingly pushing the funding burden from university coffers to individual sports programs.
Two years ago, university officials began reorganizing the athletic department to reduce BSU's financial contribution to sports by $750,000 over three years.
That's meant an increase in student athletic fees, an increase in ticket prices and a requirement that all athletes have their own health insurance in order to compete.
BSU athletic director Rick Goeb says there has been less state funding for Minnesota colleges, and the economic future looks even worse.
"We can't continue down the path that we're on right now, with the available funding we have, because we're not going to make it," Goeb said. "We can't continue. We're barely paying our bills on travel. We're barely paying our bills on food costs on the road. It's just very, very difficult right now."
Goeb says the budget crunch means sports teams are going to have to start pulling their own weight by pulling in private dollars.
"You are going to definitely see concerted efforts in fund raising, reconnecting with alums and, it has to. There's just no other way to pay the bills." Goeb said.
The shift from public to private dollars for college sports is happening across the country. But the bleak economic outlook is making that more difficult.
Brad Wolverton, senior editor at the Chronicle of Higher Education, a national publication that follows university news, says many colleges are seeing fewer private contributions for athletics programs and it's putting some sports programs in jeopardy.
Wolverton says alumni supporters appear to be less willing to contribute.
"They're still giving money where they need to give money to buy tickets and so forth, but they're not being maybe as philanthropic as they once were," Wolverton said. "They just don't have the assets."
The downturn in the economy has so far not resulted in widespread elimination of college sports teams. But as the country's recession deepens, it could be coming in the future.
Wolverton figures men's teams are more vulnerable because colleges are struggling to meet Title Nine goals.
"I think that there's a lagging effect in higher education and that you will see more cutbacks in the coming year," he said. "You'll also see programs trimmed. You'll see them trim travel expenses and they'll try to play teams that are closer by... Programs are not going to be embarrassed to just say we don't have the money and we're basically cutting these teams irrespective of gender equity laws."
It's not just alumni dollars that are shrinking. Many college sports programs are seeing fewer dollars coming in from advertising and corporate sponsorships are also down.
- All Things Considered, 12/15/2008, 5:55 p.m.