I’m afraid, the orbit of non-revenue sports around the financial sun, and quite possibly, the nation’s athletic departments, is about to go sub-zero.
But, certainly, the beginning of an ice age for non-revenue sports, especially wrestling, is here, and it’s called COVID-19.
Financially, colleges and universities are in deep trouble. Too many incoming freshmen and returners have already made decisions to take online classes in the Fall, or take the year off due to the pandemic. Certainly, these decisions could be health based, or, because of the pandemic, parents no longer have jobs, or they’re too busy trying to invest what they have remaining to save their businesses, that college for their children is out of the question.
I think everyone will agree, things are going to be different, just like it has been for all of us recently. Institutionally, as with any business, what counts are margins; the amount of money coming in, and then the amount of money going out.
I wonder, can schools survive with say 85% of the students they had last year, and as a result, 85% of the revenue those students provided? Some schools will, some won’t.
Besides tuitional incomes, does anyone think that collegiate football stadiums are going to be full this Fall, or basketball arena’s this winter?
Without football, slash, basketball money, which are the cash cows of every athletic department, with many of the school’s alumni out of work, or their businesses severely struggling, how many do you think are going to forgo buying season tickets this year? Or donating non-existent discretionary funds to their favorite institution?
Let’s use Texas A&M’s athletic budget as an example of the point I’m trying to make. Last year their budget was 212 million dollars. Now, let’s apply that to the basic economic theory of; to spend that much, you have to make that much.
With oil, the life blood of the Lone Star State, which has been as low as $12.00 a barrel recently, and at a high of $65.00 a barrel last year by comparison; with the cost of operations to break even around $40.00 a barrel, can you see what’s about to happen? The rippling effect of companies not being able to afford to pump oil out of the ground, and as a result, pay their workers who are struggling to pay their mortgages, or buy groceries, well, buying a ticket to attend this year’s games might be more than a stretch; because most oil wells right now are either dormant, or pumping one step forward while taking two steps backward.
And, we shouldn’t forget the latest changes to the NCAA’s rules that allows payments to athletes for their likeness in advertising. Because this ruling is independent from, in this example, the Aggie’s revenue stream, you might say; so what, that’s not going to affect the school’s bottom line.
Or will it?
What if, the local Chevrolet dealership, who contributes 10K a year to the Aggie’s programs, wants one of the school’s star players to advertise for them in the media? And let’s say in this example, pay that person 10K a year to do so.
How might that play out?
This might mean there’s going to be a 20k hit to the Chevrolet dealers’ bottom line. But, is that what they had in mind, or something different in today’s economic climate? If it’s the latter, they still might write a check for 10K, but the name on the check is going to be different.
So, the question becomes, if Texas A&M sports, and the universities spread sheets are about to become redder than the state of Mississippi; what will the belt tightening look like?
The Aggies aren’t about to cut back on football expenditures, not yet anyway, that sport is one notch above church services in Texas. But you can bet the AD is going to be forced to do things that aren’t popular politically, but when you can no longer rob Peter to pay Paul, like our government like’s to do, the very first thing that’s going to happen is; non-revenue sports, which are exactly what the name implies, non-revenue, well, they’re destined to become the school’s newest club sports.
I don’t see any way around it, wrestling, and its family of Olympic Sports are walking point in this war because for us, we don’t have one collegiate program in the country that’s making money. And if you were ever in the military, you’re well aware that walking point comes with a very good chance that you’ll end up on a stretcher.
So, what should wrestling do?
Staying the course, which always seems to be our leader’s directional choice, might not be wise. Hunkering down, nope, not smart either. We have to get in front of this like ODU didn’t do. If we don’t show our administrators, in advance of their decisions, that we feel their pain, and understand their dilemmas by our words, and then our actions, wrestling is going to need a warmer coat than what the woolly mammoths wore before their demise.
Here’s a forecast of how non-revenue sports might become club sports.
The most probable course of action for the AD’s is to look for political cover before they take action. They’ll most likely twist the NCAA’s arm into dropping the number of sports each institution has to offer to be considered Division I. Currently the number is 8 for the males, and 8 for the females.
That might be considered draconian by those who are receiving the ax, but prudent by those who are responsible for their institutions bottom line. We could see the numbers drop to possibly 4 male, and 4 female. Or, maybe the NCAA, albeit unlikely, would consider discontinuing athletic scholarships all together. Remember, something like that isn’t new, D-III programs have been living with that rule for decades.
Reducing expenditures, however that gets done, will more than likely be the responsibility of the non-revenue community to absorb.
Before this happens, what we should be asking is; how does wrestling survive?
This isn’t an easy challenge to overcome, but it’s far easier for wrestling than the other non-revenue sports because our coaches are the most tenacious of all the non-revenue sports. That’s the good news, the bad is we’ve never really understood who’s standing across from us?
It comes down to this; each Athletic Director is going to decide which of their non-revenue children they dislike the most?
That’s how it’s always been, and how purging works in athletic departments.
It’s never anything more than that . . . the AD’s ask themselves; which sports make my life easier, and which ones don’t?
That’s something the wrestling community, and its coaches, have never understood.
Remember this; whatever the stated reasons are why a program is dropped, don’t believe them! Don’t follow the hand with the rabbit in it, look at the one that’s holding the hat.
Athletic Directors are political creatures; that’s not good or bad, it just is. But in order to understand anything that has, or is about to happen, we need to look 180 degrees away from where we’re being directed. For the reasons given are always the ones the AD’s can defend; or, they wouldn’t have shared them with us.
So, my reason for covering this story is twofold. One, to remind everyone that we are going to see some major changes in our landscape and two, what we have to understand to do battle. And yes, it is a battle, a battle of attrition.
To begin, Athletic Directors are not the bad guys. Actually, there are no bad guys here; just winners and losers.
If we look at what is transpiring in our sport as a wrestling match, think of the AD’s as referees. They just raise the winner’s hand at the end but it’s up the combatants to determine whose hand it is?
Visualize an eight-man bracket and on each line is the name of a non-revenue sport. That’s it in a nutshell. All wrestling has to do is survive the first round of this eight-team tournament, and get to the quarters.
But again, we have to understand the scoring system. The ones that didn’t in the past have names such as; Boise State, LSU, ODU, Oregon, UCLA, Notre Dame, Kentucky, Georgia, Clemson, Alabama, and the list is endless.
The point I’m trying to make is we have to demonstrate, and make our athletic administrators aware, that our sport, wrestling, has better classroom performances than at least half of the other non-revenue sports, that wrestling has less than half of the social challenges that the other non-revenue sports have, that our coaches encourage, and receive, more alumni giving than half of the other non-revenue sports, that the school’s professors, and leadership teams have more positive things to say about our sport than at least half of the other non-revenue sports, and our coaches are contributing members of the athletic department’s leadership staff.
Winning is understanding the game, and how it’s being scored. It doesn’t work well when wrestling is always, I was going to use the word “concerned” but “bitching” is more accurate, to their administrators about something they don’t have, or aren’t being given, then turning around and giving less to the needs and wishes of their AD’s.
Trust me, I hated to write all this probably more than some disliked reading it but, like it or not, we’re in a war of attrition and we either start competing against those who have been kicking our butts for decades, or start wondering what our club sport schedules are going to look like?
FINAL WARNING: Who goes and who stays has nothing to do with performance on the mats, something our coaches always have trouble remembering, there’s a different metric at play here.
As to COVID-19, here’s what my crystal ball says. There’s a very likely chance that there won’t be a wrestling season this year. And that opinion is based on the likely hood that several football players will test positive this Fall and there will be an outcry of “how could the NCAA” put these student athletes in harm’s way?
That will lead to the NCAA taking a second look at the winter sports; i.e. basketball and wrestling. Basketball will stay due to the financial impact of losing it whereas wrestling provides no such incentives. Actually, the decision will be based on the absolute that our sport is all about ignoring the basic concept of social distancing. We’re the largest offenders of this in all of sport. When aren’t we breathing the same air as our opponents; when aren’t we sharing one another’s perspiration?
AD’s are going to elicit the help of the medical community, in our case, as a means to becoming revenue neutral, and using them for political cover. Answer the question; “What sport over the last fifty years has had the highest rate of infectious diseases?” The answer to that doesn’t require a follow up question.
Wrestling has quite a few dark clouds on the horizon. Hopefully, our coaches are up to the challenge, but if history repeats itself…