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Tighter budgets could bring pain

ORLANDO--I can't tell you how many people have asked me if the Stanford golf teams are in trouble after reading the recent Associated Press article that reported the school's athletic department was projecting a $5 million deficit over the next three years and that sports programs might need to be cut in Palo Alto. "We're fine," Cardinal men's coach Conrad Ray assured me during the GCAA national convention. "The golf programs have never been stronger. We just opened up our new practice facility last spring. But I think our athletic director wanted to be out front in stating that times are tough right now and here's how we're going to be addressing it."

Indeed, the struggling economy was the 900-pound guerrilla in the convention hall here in Orlando this past week. Debate regarding any topic related to college golf--improving the NCAA postseason, working with the PGA Tour, holding summer international competitions, deciding on where and when to host next year's convention--came with a caveat (spoken or unspoken) about financial implications.

You don't have to look any further than the attendance figures at the convention to see how keeping down costs has become a tangible issue: 162 coaches made the trip to Orlando this past week, down from 201 a year earlier. The likely reason? Many athletic departments have put restrictions on coaches traveling for "personal development."

During the convention Darin Spease, chair of the NCAA Division I men's golf committee, said only two bids have been submitted to host for regionals in 2010, a problem when you consider that there six regionals that need a home. Some procedural issues about the bidding process, in part, explain the shortfall here, but I'm guessing the fact that the NCAA only provides a stipend of roughly $16,000 to schools who host the event has something to do with it, too.

In discussing the situation with several coaches, it appears that most have received word from their ADs that their budgets will be cut to offset loses in revenues and prevent any overall deficits. (Last week, for instance, Florida State's athletic director Randy Spetman, announced a 10-percent cut in the overall athletic budget for 2009-10.) Such cuts will come in different shapes and sizes, depending on the schools in question.

Many coaches say they'll be asked to reduce the amount they spend on recruiting, a particular hardship for programs that have relied on international players to help fill out their lineups. "It's been kind of in vogue to go to the British Boys Championship lately, but I'm guessing that won't happen this year as much," noted one coach. "The real problem here is that big programs will still have the money to go ahead and do it but mid-major programs are going to get left behind."

Others say they'll be more attentive with their tournament schedule for 2009-10, perhaps choosing to play one more "local" event rather attend an event across the country that will require airfares.

No one I spoke with has yet heard of programs that are being asked to cut scholarship money. Still, if the recession were to become prolonged, this could become a future issue. "I think everybody's endowments were hit hard last year," said one coach at one major Division I school. "Most are down at least 25 percent. For one year, that's not a problem, but if this continues I think we'll no longer be cutting into fat. It will be bone we're hitting."

Another bigger-picture question now lingers, as well. What if the university presidents that oversee the NCAA, under the pretext of trying to address the financial downturn, decide to revisit whether sports that play their seasons over more than one semester should consolidate their schedules to just the fall or the spring? (Don't laugh; whispers of such an idea are starting to be heard.) When this was up for discussion in golf several years ago, only to be quelled by the aggressive leadership of the GCAA and NGCA, the NCAA claimed it was acting because of student welfare and the number of days missed in the classroom. Now add into the equation the need to keep athletic departments from drowning in red ink, and getting presidents to change their thinking in the future becomes a much more difficult proposition.

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