USOC, NCAA Panel to Examine Cuts

By Staff

Athletic Management, 16.4, June/July 2004,

In January, the track and field teams at Humboldt State University were threatened with extinction, only to be saved at the last minute by a special booster group determined to keep them afloat. In February, the Southern Methodist University men’s track and field and cross country programs weren’t as fortunate—the school announced they were in their final season. In March, Towson University’s men’s track and field and cross country programs got the same news—and so did men’s tennis. Central Washington University closed March by announcing elimination of its men’s and women’s swimming and wrestling programs, leaving the state with no four-year collegiate wrestling programs.

Responding to similar cuts across a wide range of sports and institutions, the United States Olympic Committee and the NCAA have formed a joint task force to address the decline in Olympic sports at NCAA schools.

"The dropping of programs has been an issue in wrestling and gymnastics for a long time," says Kyle Kallander, Commissioner of the Big South Conference and Chair of the NCAA Olympic Sports Liaison Committee. "But now there are signs that track, swimming, tennis, and other mainstream Olympic sports are being dropped by member schools as well. The USOC presented the idea of a task force at the NCAA Convention in January, and we felt that it was a great opportunity to partner with them to explore reasons for the crisis and possible solutions."

The NCAA and USOC are natural partners for working on the issue, Kallander believes, since healthy collegiate programs benefit both. "Historically, Olympic teams have been populated largely by athletes who either are in or have been in NCAA programs," he says. "And the NCAA is interested in providing opportunities for student-athletes."

Improving communication between the two organizations is a primary aim of the task force, according to Jen Strawley, NCAA Associate Director for Student-Athlete Reinstatements. "The Olympic Sports Liaison Committee works with the USOC, but it is still an NCAA committee," she says. "The task force will be a joint venture and a means for both organizations to discuss this important issue together."

The task force will consist of five representatives from the NCAA and five from the USOC, who will meet four times over 18 months. The NCAA solicited applications from its member’s presidents, athletic directors, and conference commissioners. Any recommendations it makes will likely come back to the NCAA through the Olympic Sports Liaison Committee, according to Kallander.

Some ideas already under the committee’s consideration are likely to find their way into the task force’s discussion. "We’ve been discussing everything from legislation that will help make sponsoring Olympic sports more affordable to ways of changing the revenue distribution formula at the NCAA to reward sponsoring a larger number of sports," says Kallander. "Some of these things are in place already, but we’ll be looking to do more from the NCAA side."

Possibilities for assistance from the USOC include the use of Olympic marks and brands for marketing or fund-raising and devoting USOC funds to institutions to assist them in maintaining or sponsoring Olympic sports, according to Kallander.