College Athletics Adapt to New Financial Realities

Athletic-department cuts have forced Bowling Green State University to drop its baseball program, saving the school a half-million dollars annually. The move will eliminate two full-time coaches and a part-time coach. There are also 34 student-athletes affected by the move.

The University of Denver is no stranger to moves like that as the athletic department has had to make difficult decisions to drop teams in the past – specifically baseball and football.

DU dropped baseball in 1997. With few Division I baseball programs in the Rocky Mountain region, poor spring weather conditions, and high and rising costs, DU took a pass on what was once one of DU’s premier sports. The highlight for the program took place in 1973 when DU reached the finals of the NCAA district baseball tourney, where they were ousted by national power Arizona State. But the overall cost of operation was just too high to justify.

Two months ago, the NCAA Division I Council was asked to waive the minimum number of sports required to be a Division I member but the request was denied. DI schools must continue field teams in at least seven sports for men and seven for women or six for men and eight for women, with at least two team sports for each gender. Denver currently offers 7 men’s teams, 8 women’s teams, and 1 co-ed team (skiing).

At some colleges, athletic teams are on the chopping block in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Cincinnati announced plans to drop men’s soccer. Akron announced plans to drop men’s cross-country and golf and women’s tennis at the end of the academic year. Old Dominion is dumping wrestling. Today, Furman announced that they are dropping baseball and men’s lacrosse. And expect more colleges and universities to explore cuts to teams, especially if they are above the NCAA required minimums.

In the summit league, North Dakota State has not ruled out dropping sports programs as part of the COVID-19 impact. “We’ll take a hard look at everything,” said NDSU athletic director Matt Larsen. South Dakota State is said to be going through the same evaluation.  Their decision(s) could have more far-reaching impacts on the league’s minimum number of sports teams to qualify for an auto-bid to NCAA playoffs.

Could DU drop athletic teams? It’s certainly possible – but unlikely. Large roster sports like lacrosse, swimming & diving and soccer have relatively low scholarship levels but bring a number of paying non-scholarship athletes to the University. While hockey generates revenue, women’s gymnastics has become a dynamic draw at DU. Tennis and golf, long-time powers for DU, bring top-notch academics to campus and the savings would be relatively small. And skiing? Twenty-four national championships and a powerful ‘brand’ make this sport untouchable. Women’s volleyball has become an NCAA staple as well and plays a critical Title IX offset for men’s hockey.

Sure, Denver will be tightening their belt on administrative overhead and costly travel but do not expect dramatic on-field changes.


Photo: Head Coach Jack Rose led DU for 36 years, leaving the University as the school’s all-time winningest coach, compiling 785 wins during his storied career. Courtesy: Denver Athletics

10 thoughts on “College Athletics Adapt to New Financial Realities”

  1. I think swimming and diving would go before skiing. Lower visibility and likely a higher cost with the number of participants.

  2. Furman has been playing baseball since 1896. Talk about tradition. A hated rival of my alma mater, I’ll still miss them in the Southern Conference.

  3. We DU fans need to be ready for anything. The school has lost at least $21 million before the decision on fall quarter. They’ll only get about $4 million back from the government, and much of that $4 million goes to students. Not sure if that $21 million includes endowment losses or not. Fingers are crossed…

    Furman’s $700 Million pre-Covid endowment is similar to DU’s pre-covid endowment of $750 million, but with only 3K total students, Furman and other small schools are taking a bigger bath, without enough tuition revenue to replace losses.

    If any sport has to be cut at DU, swimming would be my first chop. Great kids on that team who are a top 50 program, but no real spectator value with only a few home meets each year.

    Personally, I’d like to see them make the biggest cut to inclusive excellence staffers. No department at DU has done more to damage DU than IE has in recent years…

  4. Creative scheduling is needed. Play OOC basketball with home/home games with CU, CSU, AFA, UNColorado, and Wyoming. 10 games with NO air travel or hotels needed. Then play league schedule and we have full or almost full schedule. 26 games. I have a lacrosse idea also for home games Double header long weekends. Example: DU and AFA host say UNC and Duke. No school takes a SOS hit. We should do the same for East coast OOC road games. (Maybe even Big East games). Home field not that important for lax games. Throw Utah into the mix. We need cooperation from east coast and midwestern lax schools. Time for blue bloods to stop being selfish. Dunker has rebuttable solutions.

  5. Jack Rose was one of my favorite coaches at DU. Always had time for a chat and made it a point to know all of the athletes at the school not just the baseball players. I was lucky enough to see some of DU’s greatest baseball teams and players when I was there.

  6. Can’t think of ANY DU sports that would be palatable to cut. Guessing that the members of the swim team are great students, and they have an excellent program on the upswing. Plus, you already have the pool…is it just travel expenses that we’re talking about? I guess that could be significant with a large number of people on the team. But swimming also strikes me as a sport where there is a significant amount of competition pretty close by (and no need to travel east.)

    Skiing is just so much a part of DU, I can’t see them doing that like they did in the 70’s.

    Yes, I wonder what it costs to keep the INCLUSIVE EXCELLENCE program afloat. How could they possibly cut any sports teams with student athletes that compete FOR DU…who make us all proud…who contribute something positive to the community…before cutting this waste of space IE program that generates nothing but negativity and divisiveness?

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