Sideline Slants

In the grand scheme of things, it was nothing more than a hiccup in the world of sports. Hardly anyone noticed, and few people, outside of those involved, cared.

It’s too bad though, because to some extent, we all should care.

Kansas University recently announced it would drop men’s tennis and swimming because of budget problems. While the decision went virtually unnoticed by the public, it’s obviously a big deal to the individual swimmers and tennis players.

I’d be surprised if the grade-point average for the individuals in those two sports isn’t at the top of the men’s side of the athletic department. It’s ironic that the programs getting the ax are the ones that best live up to the student-athlete ideal.

The Jayhawks now have 18 sports-11 for women, seven for men-to drop from third to seventh in the Big 12 in the number of sports offered.

KU has had men’s tennis since 1911, but the sport hasn’t done well since winning three league titles in 1994-1996.

Men have competed in swimming at KU since the 1924-25 season and won 10 conference titles over a 12-year span between 1968-79.

Because of Title IX-a federal regulation dictating equal opportunity for participation in college athletics for men and women-and NCAA rules, women’s teams could not be considered in the cut.

KU sells out every home basketball game, but the income isn’t enough to sustain a struggling football program and the sports that don’t bring in revenue.

Most colleges and universities provide athletic programs in volleyball, basketball and football. Many also provide programs in baseball, softball, soccer, track and field, cross country, wrestling, hockey, golf, tennis and swimming.

Football and basketball are the major revenue-producing sports, but even those high-profile programs are frequently awash in red ink. The cost of running a successful major college basketball and football program is significant.

As a matter of business, it’s hard to argue with KU’s decision. The two dropped sports will save KU about $600,000 on next year’s budget and about $3.6 million over the next five years. Even so, the budget won’t be balanced, leaving KU with the need of finding a way to increase revenues or cut costs.

Like most major universities, KU alumni want their football and basketball teams to excel on a national stage. While they’ve been prominent in basketball for a long time, they’ve struggled in football. The financial upside to having a successful football program is far greater than a successful swimming or tennis team. Hence, the minor sports become the sacrificial lambs.

David Ambler, KU’s vice chancellor for student affairs, made an astute observation when he said, “Athletics are all about winning, and winning is all about making money. I don’t see the NCAA doing anything about cost containment. We’re going down a road where only revenue sports are left.”

College athletic programs are all about money and not what’s necessarily best for its student athletes. Make no mistake, winning programs require a lot of money.

KU’s decision receives so little attention because it mirrors most Americans when it comes to seeing the big picture. Generally we don’t. When a military crisis affects oil supplies in Kuwait, we show righteous indignation and jump in with full military force to protect Kuwait’s and our interests. When there’s a famine in Africa, we throw out a few crumbs. We’re willing to sacrifice the poor if they don’t offer something to us in return.

We live in a bottom-line world. The bottom line is that universities support programs with revenue potential. The bottom line makes sense. The bottom line is prudent. The bottom line doesn’t have a heart.

P.S. Good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgment.

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