Programs Cut at Missouri State

By Staff

Coaching Management, 14.8, September 2006,

For more than a decade, Athletic Director Bill Rowe fought to maintain menís indoor and outdoor track and field at Missouri State University, formerly called Southwest Missouri State University. But before the start of last season, the program was officially cut, along with menís cross country and menís and womenís tennis, for an annual savings of $350,000. What happened?

ďIt tore my heart out, to be really honest,Ē says Rowe. ďIíve never had a more stressful year. Weíd been fighting off the programís elimination for at least a dozen years, using everything we had. We offer more sports and generate as much revenue as any of the 10 schools in our conference, if not more. It was a combination of factors. Our tuition keeps going up each year, we donít get as much support from the state as some of our sister schools, and we couldnít get enough alumni to step forward with financial gifts.Ē

To increase revenue, the track program had been fostering relationships with local businesses, adding advertising to its arena, hosting an annual auction with help from Head Track Coach Ronald Boyce, and sending a monthly newsletter to its track alumni. Despite these and similar efforts for other sports, the department needed to find $500,000 worth of cuts.

In September 2005, the university appointed a nine-person panel, including Rowe, to study all 21 athletic programs. Each program was evaluated on its ability to compete, the academic record of its student-athletes, its integration into the university culture, and its ability to live within its budget and be as financially independent as possible.

The panel met eight times during the fall semester and created a system to rate each sportís facility, competitive strength, graduation rate, fan base, alumni support, and local/national recognition. Then, after crunching the numbers and weighing the impact of potential cuts on the universityís Title IX compliance, diversity goals, and budget, panelists presented three options to the president.

All three options included cutting menís track and field and cross country, which scored at the bottom of the panelís rankings. In a seven-team conference, menís indoor track and field finished no better than sixth in the last five years. Over the same period, menís outdoor track and field had finished third (once), fifth (twice) and sixth (twice). The menís cross country team fared better, but only placed fourth (four times) and sixth (once) out of 10 teams.

Following the presidentís recommendation, the Board of Governors unanimously approved the most drastic of the three options, also eliminating menís and womenís tennis. The cuts will directly affect 39 student-athletes, who will continue to receive scholarship money as long as they stay at Missouri State. Once the scholarships are off the books, the combined cuts will save the university $550,000 a year.

Response to the cuts included a protest by the local NAACP, a last-minute proposal by an economics professor to scale back the schoolís I-AA football program, and a Title IX suit by the womenís tennis team, which failed to obtain an injunction to stop the cuts and will likely continue its fight in court.

That leaves Missouri State with 16 teams, 10 womenís and six menís, the lowest allowed by the NCAA, and leaves Rowe with a warning to other schools. ďDonít take for granted that your sport is always going to be there,Ē advises Rowe. ďDonít wait until the house is on fire to start rescuing your program. Itís been a tough year, and if nothing else, I hope this serves as a wakeup call to other schools.Ē