All the Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference wants is a level playing field. The answer? The Sports Regulation Initiative. This might be the most significant change to the league in the last 20 years and a step toward making the KCAC competitive on the national level.
When the KCAC Board of Presidents voted to ease restraints on practices and the number of games institutions can schedule, it must be a good thing, right?
Well, as a well-known sports broadcaster is known to say, “Not so fast, my friends.”
In a nutshell, football teams can go from a 10-game to an 11-game schedule. The number of spring practices allowed increases from 10 to 15. One of those practices can be a full-pad, intra-squad scrimmage—in essence, a spring game, just like the big boys in the NCAA.
Baseball teams can schedule 55 games, an increase of five games.
Softball and volleyball can extend their seasons to 28 dates.
Men’s and women’s basketball teams will be allowed to begin practice and compete in games earlier than before. Teams also can play two more games, up to 32 games.
The initiative is bound to help, but it’s no panacea.
The gap between the KCAC and the top echelon of the NAIA in football is significant. The rule changes won’t automatically translate into competing for a national championship.
In order to win it all, colleges in the KCAC will have to spend more money and recruit better talent, i.e., student-athletes. The biggest question is whether KCAC colleges can find the financial resources to do so and if they should try. How much is a NAIA national championship worth?
Will becoming more competitive in the nonconference and possibly competing for a national championship reap the same benefits for Tabor College, Bethel College or any KCAC school as it might for KU and Kansas State?
The athletic budget gap between NCAA Division I schools and the KCAC is light-years apart. So too, are the benefits of winning a national championship.
Major universities will always get more ink and air time for sports than small colleges will. Why? Because more people care about the outcome of KU and KSU sporting events than Tabor or Bethel College.
The number of KU and KSU alumni able to contribute to successful athletic programs is far greater than KCAC schools; and the opportunity for corporate support is undeniably greater as well for major universities.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with wanting to compete for national championships. Apparently, KCAC presidents and athletic directors believe it’s worth the cost. And believe me, there will be a cost.
With the new initiative, all KCAC schools will have to increase spending on athletics to remain competitive in the conference.
Will spending more on athletics negatively impact the academic side of small colleges? I hope not, but there’s no guarantee.
In a paper titled “A Lingering Question of Priorities: Athletic Budgets and Academic Performance Revisited,” the authors wrote, “Even if such participation has a positive impact for the participating students, however, the impact of athletics on academic performance of the entire school remains an open question. Students not on athletic teams may eschew studies for pep rallies and games. Nonathletes may resent attention paid to athletics and become alienated or worse.”
Stuart Swink, head men’s and women’s coach at Frostburg State, offered this advice to parents and student-athletes when choosing a college to attend: “Choose the school that meets your child’s educational and emotional needs the best—not the school with the 10-time champions, free clothes, shoes, year-round competition and the like—remember, the bigger the sport and what goes with that, the less time for academics—and in the end, very, very few student-athletes will ever play their sport for a living.”
“If it is worth doing, it is worth doing well,” is a standard bit of advice that all of us have received at some time in our lives. It applies to small college athletic programs and academic endeavors.
The modest easing of restraints that the KCAC schools have committed to is a step in that direction. It will inevitably create new tensions in allocating limited resources, but maybe that’s OK because much of education is about learning to define priorities and implement them effectively.