Task Force Puts Men’s Sport on Endangered List

By Staff

Coaching Management, 14.1, January 2006, http://www.momentummedia.com/articles/cm/cm1401/bbendangered.htm

A joint NCAA-U.S. Olympic Committee task force issued a warning in a report released in September: Men’s indoor and outdoor track and field needs an enhanced source of funding and a higher profile, or more programs will join the 594 Olympic-sport teams dropped by NCAA members between 1989-2004. Formed in May of last year, the NCAA and United States Olympic Committee Joint Task Force has met three times to discuss the decline of Olympic sports at NCAA-member institutions.

The group’s report contained eight recommendations on what the USOC and NCAA coaches, athletes, boosters, and athletic departments can do to help Olympic sports thrive at colleges and universities. It noted that almost 12,000 student-athletes have experienced the loss of a program since 1990.

One of the committee’s first steps was to identify the Olympic sports that are “at risk.” Sports were labeled at risk through three steps. First, the sport must have been dropped by at least 10 Division I programs between 1989 and 2004. Second, the sport had to display a percentage decrease in the number of institutions sponsoring the sport during the same period. And third, the sport had to exhibit one of the following criteria: recent experience suggesting the programs are continuing to be dropped, the number of current programs relative to the number of programs in the 15-year period suggested that the sport was at risk, or a measurable decrease in squad size.

“Some sports made the list because their absolute numbers have gotten so low,” explains Jack Swarbrick, Chairman of the Task Force and an attorney with experience in both collegiate and Olympic sports. “Others still have high numbers, but they have negative trends. And some have high numbers and decent trends over the majority of the 15 years, but their history in the past few years is not so great.”

Men’s indoor track and field currently has 246 programs and experienced a four percent decrease in school sponsorship over the 15 year period—men’s outdoor track and field has 264 programs and experienced a 3.7 percent decline. Both indoor and outdoor have been dubbed “at risk” because of slowly declining sponsorship and a recent history of programs being cut around the country.

After identifying the at risk sports, the Task Force offered eight recommendations to Olympic sports communities. Among them are increasing funds, building awareness, finding strategies for controlling cost, and increasing Olympic sports’ marketability.

The first and most pressing recommendation, to increase funds, includes the formation of a joint charitable foundation to be in place and operational by the end of 2006. The Task Force also recommended surveying NCAA-member institutions on how they prefer to control costs of their Olympic sport programs.

To help build awareness of Olympic sports, the Task Force recommended adopting and advertising a value statement on campuses across the country as well as creating an electronic system to send stories of interest about Olympic sports and participating student-athletes to media outlets. The Task Force would also like to start a continuing education program to help coaches more effectively advocate for their teams.

“What we see over and over again with eliminated programs is that coaches are completely blindsided by the decision,” Swarbrick says. “The more coaches can be engaged in the promotion of their sport in the university, the better off they’ll be. This education program would help coaches learn to do that effectively.”

A more controversial topic the Task Force took on was whether athletes in Olympic sports should have to abide by the same rules as other NCAA athletes. The Task Force believes that the relaxation of some NCAA rules, such as practice rules and amateurism status, would help attract more athletes to play Olympic sports at the collegiate level.

“One of the challenges with Olympic sports is making them more marketable to fans,” Swarbrick says. “One way you can do that is to have more high profile athletes participating in them. There are also rules governing practice times and who athletes can practice with because some may perceive that as a recruiting advantage. But worrying about recruiting if a sport is disappearing doesn’t make much sense.”

For more information about the Task Force, visit: ncaa.org, click on “search,” and type in “NCAA/USOC Joint Task Force.”