The economic downturn from the coronavirus pandemic may suck the school spirit out of smaller college campuses. Four-year colleges have cut about 100 sports teams to save money as a direct result of coronavirus shutdowns. NCAA Division II, III, and the NAIA lost 78 teams as of last week.
Campus officials deciding whether to scale back sports in higher education must weigh several unknown factors. If classes remain online next year, what happens to teams and funding? Will alumni giving go down because of unemployment?
Furman University in Greenville, S.C., already planned to scale back its athletic program, President Elizabeth Davis said. But the pandemic accelerated the changes. Furman officials decided to cut baseball and men’s lacrosse in the fall and reduce the number of athletic scholarships it offers over the next five years.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has thrust us into a global crisis we could not have imagined six months ago,” Davis said. “None of these decisions was easy or made lightly.”
David Ridpath, an associate professor of sports business at Ohio University, said abolishing nonrevenue sports might hurt universities in the long run. In the 2018-2019 school year, almost 150,000 Division I athletes paid about $3.6 billion in college tuition and fees.
“Dropping these sports, you’re likely losing bodies, and that counts against your overall enrollment,” Ridpath told USA Today, adding that colleges should instead trim budgets from more expensive programs like football and basketball.
For example, he suggested ending the traditional hotel stay for football teams the night before a game and cutting pay for coaches and staff: “There’s a lot of fat that can be cut before sports being dropped.” —Sharon Dierberger