By Laura Ulrich
The economic arms race in big time college athletics has been heating up for the past decade. But will the current economic downturn grind it to a halt? Two athletic administrators weigh in.
For several years, big time athletic departments have been jockeying for position with new facilities and higher coaching salaries, drawing criticism from groups like the Knight Commission for appearing to lose touch with the central mission and core values of higher education. As the recession forces programs to focus on meeting existing obligations and staying in the black, are we about to see a stepping down of what’s come to be known as the arms race?
“One certainty is that athletic departments are going to experience a much higher degree of scrutiny about how we’re spending our money than we ever have before,” says Jim Livengood, Athletic Director at the University of Arizona. “Building a new stadium just because we want one is going to be archaic thinking. We’re going to have to demonstrate that we need a new facility for a very good reason. Programs will still spend money, but it will be much more selective.”
Bobby Purcell, Executive Director of the Wolfpack Club at North Carolina State University, agrees. “With the economy like it is, it’s going to make athletic programs reevaluate themselves and become better stewards of the money they do have,” he says. “As bad as the downturn is, that is one positive that could come out of it.”
However, while some changes may occur, Livengood is not convinced the recession will herald sweeping reform. “I don’t believe any particular economic climate is going to change things fundamentally,” he says. “Programs that had sound basic values to begin with are still going to have them, and programs that want to spend more than anybody else are still going to find ways to do it.
“I don’t think we’re all on the same page enough to say, ‘Okay, now let’s all pull back and change the way we’re doing things,’” he continues. “For each of us, in the final analysis, it comes down to what’s best for our own institution and our own program.”
Purcell sees a possibility that the financial crisis could even exacerbate the divide between the haves and the have-nots. “Programs that started out with a lot of resources will be harmed less that those that didn’t,” he says. “It would be great to see the arms race mentality change, but at this point, it remains to be seen exactly how the recession will affect it.”
To read more on athletic department belt tightening, check out the Athletic Management April/May cover story, "Looking to Cut."
Laura Ulrich is a contributing writer for Athletic Management. She can be reached at: laura@MomentumMedia.com.If you’d like to comment on this article, please e-mail us at: email@example.com
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