Examining the changes on the collegiate sports horizon

Last week set off a chain-reaction of schools dropping athletic teams as the result of COVID-19 and other cost factors. Augustana had a ‘virtual’ campus tour with Summit League Presidents this past weekend. Expect a decision on the Vikings application for admission within several weeks. Add to all this, Summit League commissioner Tom Douple said last week that he expects some members to drop sports as well as several members to add teams.

So, we did a 10-year analysis (below) to examine DU’s sports menu across all their conferences, Summit League sports teams, and prospective members St Thomas and Augustana. This analysis includes UMKC’s sports offerings as well as the exit of Fort Wayne from the Summit League.

What’s hot and what’s not?

Lacrosse, both men’s and women’s, has seen rapid growth with over 37 teams added during the 10-years studied. Women’s golf and soccer have seen growth as well. The fastest-growing NCAA Division I sport is relatively new with beach volleyball which gained 53 teams in 10 years. Oftentimes, the same players and coaches from indoor volleyball play and run the beach volleyball program so the costs are minimal and it is a fit for DU as we have written before. But don’t expect that to happen now with the COVID-19 cost crunch.

In the Summit League, baseball is the biggest short-term risk with only 5 members – under the minimum of six members needed to get an auto-qualifier to the NCAA Tournament. But the addition of St. Thomas and/or Augustana should resolve that issue. All other sports seem to be adequately supported.  But cost factors still remain for teams that face difficult financial challenges.

Nationally, thirty-five swim and dive teams were dropped over the 10-year study period. Twenty-four tennis squads were dropped as well. Several men’s sports were falling during this period, likely due to Title IX and cost constraints, including wrestling (-12) and cross country (-11).

Remember, D1 schools must continue to 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). And it is clear the potential newcomers’ St. Thomas and Augustana will have to drop several sports due to increased costs at the Division I level but are sure to comply with the current Summit League sports menu.

The most vulnerable sports in the Summit League due to cost and visibility respectively, appear to be baseball and swim & dive. Soccer is costly as well but continues to be a growing sport and plays a valuable Title IX role for many schools. Also, expect member schools to re-examine their non-core sports such as equestrian, wrestling, or high-cost, low-return sports like non-power 5 football.

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