The Loop

'Doing more with less' is better than having nothing

Almost every time I've talked to a college golf coach over the phone the past few months, I've asked at some point in our conversation a straight-forward, yet difficult question:

How has the recession impacted your team?

The usual answer from coaches has been that their athletic director has asked them to "do more with less." Tightened budgets, however, are starting to influence their plans for recruiting this summer as well as their tournament schedules for next fall. More than a few coaches have said that they're reducing the number of events they'll compete in where they have to fly rather than drive.

"It used to be that a if a tournament was farther than 5 1/2, 6 hours from campus, we'd fly," one coach told me recently. "Now, if it's anywhere under eight hours, we'll take the van."

Some schools have been rather public with their cost cutting, most notably Stanford, which let go 21 employees in its athletic department in early March. Others have been more subtle. At Clemson and Arizona State, members of the athletic department (including the golf coaches) have been required to take unpaid furlough days.

There was an interesting story today on the NCAA News website, written by Michelle Brutlag Hosick, about how financial issues might affect the landscape of collegiate athletics in the future. She highlights, among other points, the risk of a divide at the Division I level growing between schools that have football/basketball programs that continue to generate revenues and those schools that don't or have programs in smaller, lower profile conferences.

The best example of this regarding golf might be the stories I'm hearing from some coaches at men's programs who are inviting teams to their tournaments for the 2009-10 season. With the ".500 rule" in mind, they're starting to invite lower profile schools to their tournaments, only to have those schools say that they appreciate the offer but they don't have the money to attend that tournament because of a restricted travel budget. How sadly ironic is it that the ".500 rule" is actually doing what it was intended to do--give chances for "smaller" schools to play against the "bigger" powers--and yet those teams now can't afford to take advantage of the opportunity?

There have been some rumblings that the NCAA Board of Directors might be inclined to review the overall model of Division I sports, perhaps even restructure how certain sports operate. If such a review occurs in golf, chances are the first thing that might be examined is a reduction in the length of fall season (if not an outright elimination of fall play, under the guise of cost savings).

Do I really think it will get to that point? In my heart of hearts, no. Still this is the NCAA we're dealing with and anything is possible. Bottom line: if you're a college golfer or coach, don't take anything for granted right now, least all the progress that's been made for the sport the past decade be taken away.