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  • Tuesday, May 29, 2007


    Blame it on the bitchez

    It was bad enough that the rape allegations ruined Duke's lacrosse season last year, but now that Powerline Paul has discovered the sport, he finds even more women who are are keeping the men down:

    As the Post also notes, however, the game is not expanding at the college level. Despite high school talent that is probably at least twice as deep as it was 10 or 20 years ago, the number of college men's lacrosse program has remained basically the same.

    The Post doesn't explore the reasons for this, but Title IX must be the main culprit. That's the law which, as interpreted, basically requires colleges to to enroll as many women in intercollegiate athletics as men regardless of comparative interest. It causes colleges to eliminate programs in which many students would like to participate, for example men's wrestling and tennis, in favor women's programs (say, a bowling team) for which interest is minimal and must be ginned up.

    In this environment, it's no wonder that colleges aren't starting men's lacrosse programs, which require (as I understand it) at least three dozen players. Doing so seems like a sure-fire way to encounter Title IX compliance issues.
    Or, if one were limber of mind, one might suggest getting around those Title IX compliance issues by, say, starting up a women's lacrosse team also. In San Diego seven high school boys and six high school girls have made official announcements that they will be playing at the collegiate level next year. Imagine that...

    If you want to look for the real culprit, look no farther than football:

    You can trace the demise of football at Long Beach State to a concrete wall in Berlin, Germany. It divided a city and political ideologies, and it came crashing down in November 1989.

    With it came an end to the Cold War and the lucrative defense contracts that fueled it. Many of those contracts were in California, and as they dried up so did the state's once-robust tax base -- to the tune of $4 billion. That shortfall trickled down to the Cal State University system and, ultimately, to its respective athletic departments.

    At Long Beach State, athletic director Dave O'Brien was told to trim close to $1 million from his budget in 1992. He figured he had two choices:

    1. Make across-the-board cuts from every sport -- salaries, equipment, recruiting, operations -- and decimate the entire department.

    2. Cut one sport and leave the rest of the department alone.

    Bye-bye, football.

    The football budget was $1.3 million, and what little revenue it generated came from road-game guarantees against (far) superior opponents. Unlike a school such as San Diego State, Long Beach at the time also was competing for the Southern California sports dollar against two major colleges, two NFL teams, two NBA teams, two pro baseball teams and an NHL team.

    And attendance was well below five figures. In Long Beach's final season, the 49ers averaged 3,893 per game.


    A half-hour away, Cal State Fullerton was facing $750,000 in cuts in its athletic department, or 15 percent of its $4.9 million budget. The football program, which cost $1.2 million, survived the 1992 season -- when just 2,113 showed up for the final home game -- but no further.

    "I had to ask myself if we belonged in this arena, and the answer was no," said Bill Shumard, who was the AD at Fullerton at the time and now holds the same position at Long Beach State. "Playing football was bringing down the reputation of the entire athletic program. It tore down the image of other sports, and I had coaches tell me that our football program affected their recruiting and fund-raising efforts in a negative way.

    "It was unfair to everyone involved. We were spending $1.2 million a year and going 2-9 ... We just weren't set up to be competitive in football."

    Long Beach and Fullerton were not alone. They joined a growing list of universities, public and private, in California and elsewhere, that would drop football in the '90s. Santa Clara discontinued the sport after the 1992 season as well; Pacific did it after 1995.


    Yet the question remains. Did Long Beach, Fullerton and the rest take a defeatist attitude simply because they lost a couple football games 55-0, potentially denying them millions of dollars if their fortunes turned?

    Or were they something else? Were they visionaries? Long Beach, Fullerton, Pacific, Santa Clara. They all dropped football in the 1990s. They all say something else, though: It was the best thing they ever did. Flourished, is a word you hear often from them. "Looking back, it didn't make sense to keep football," says Carroll Williams, then athletic director at Santa Clara. "I argued at first, but the president made the correct decision. The bottom line is, we strengthened our entire program. "We said, 'Let's be as good as we can be in the other sports. Let's compete at a championship level in all the sports our conference sponsors.' We've been able to do that in most cases." Exhibit A: soccer. Both men's and women's teams at Santa Clara went to the NCAA Final Four last year. Or take Long Beach. After dropping football, O'Brien targeted six sports to compete at a national level: men's and women's basketball, men's and women's volleyball, baseball and softball. Since then, the 49ers have a .645 winning average in those sports, including two national championships, 20 conference titles and 30 NCAA postseason appearances. In the same sports over the same period, San Diego State has a .499 winning average, no national championships, five conference titles and eight NCAA appearances. Says Long Beach State's Shumard: "What I learned from the Fullerton situation is this: If you're going to field a football team at a (Cal State University) you better be successful. If your team continues to lose, it will have a ripple effect over your entire athletic department."

    Or take Pacific. This year it finished 71st out of 260 Division I schools in the Sears Directors' Cup standings, which rank athletic departments based on the performance of their teams. That was the highest by anybody in the country that doesn't play football, and ahead of Utah, Kansas, Mississippi State, Syracuse and SDSU (94th). Or take Fullerton. Since dropping football, the Titans renewed a focus on their baseball program and have become regulars at the College World Series. They won it all in 1995; this year, they were the No. 1 seed in the eight-team tournament and finished third. "I didn't want to drop football," says Milton Gordon, president of Cal State Fullerton. "But two years after dropping it, we won the national championship in baseball. Within a year or two, we had an athletic department budget in the black. It has never been in the red since."

    The size of their budgets decreased, but so did the constant need to sacrifice millions of dollars at the football altar in a futile effort to remain competitive. Long Beach, Fullerton, Santa Clara and Pacific all have athletic budgets in the $7 million range, or one-fourth of the average budget of a BCS school. Their athletic departments also receive between $2 million and $3 million a year from the school's general fund. SDSU gets $6.4 million. Many athletic directors say if they dropped football, the entire department would suffer. That there would be significant scholarship reductions on the women's side. That there would be massive cuts to the overall budget without the department's major source of revenue and magnet for fund raising. "What they've lost is their ties to their alums," says San Jose State athletic director Chuck Bell, whose school continues to play Div. I-A football amid a serious budget crisis. "Their alums have no interest because there's no national media coverage or local media for anything but football and men's basketball. "That's what the public wants to read. It's about football and basketball. They can win a national championship in those other sports but you and I -- without some investigative work -- can't remember what those championships were. I think that's too bad for the kids' sake, but that's reality."

    The Long Beach and Fullertons of the world respectfully disagree. "When we dropped football, it was perceived as a step backward," O'Brien has said. "Instead, it was a liberating move forward." Long Beach, Fullerton, Santa Clara and Pacific indeed have grown their athletic departments in the past five years, all the while becoming more competitive. In some sports, they have become contenders for national championships on an annual basis -- Long Beach and Pacific in women's volleyball, Fullerton in baseball, Santa Clara in soccer. Students at Long Beach recently passed a referendum for a fee increase to help the athletic department reach full scholarship levels in all 18 sports. That would give Long Beach 142 scholarships (SDSU offers 158 not counting the 85 for football) and means the days of targeting specific sports for success are over. "It's how we define ourselves now -- the best major college athletic program in America that doesn't play football," says Shumard, whose 49ers have finished as high as 43rd in the Sears Directors' Cup standings. "If you find the correct niche within your marketplace, you can become that. "We have."
    San Diego State still hasn't found their niche.

    In early 1998, then-San Diego State Athletic Director Rick Bay spoke with a sense of urgency about the athletic department needing to support itself.

    “We could be on the brink of something great,” Bay said, “but if it happens, it must happen over the next two or three years, because it will be difficult for the faculty to provide money for athletics. This is a very lean, very modest operation, but we've had to ask for an augmentation of $2.5 million, and that's money a lot of people in the university would like to have for their programs.”

    Nine years later, the goal remains elusive. While the current fiscal year doesn't close until June 30, the athletic department again will receive about $2.8 million in “one-time” or “auxiliary” funding from other university sources to balance its budget of about $27 million.

    The infusion is necessary despite a $160 annual student fee increase implemented in 2004 by SDSU President Stephen Weber, overriding a student referendum. That has added $4.8 million to $7 million to the athletic department coffers annually. An additional $5 million in athletics revenue comes from the state general fund.


    “One-time funding is a joke if it's been going on for the last 20 years, every year, no?” asked Leon Rosenstein, an SDSU emeritus professor of philosophy. “If forced to think about it, you will find – though they will rarely allow you to quote them by name – that most faculty agree; and, finally, no, no one bails out academics. Football is sacred.”

    Rosenstein added:

    “The (SDSU) president should be censured by the Senate and (Associated Students) for his ridiculous persistence – in spite of all evidence to the contrary – that somehow, at some time, in some way, if we only 'stay the course,' football will be a big money-maker.”
    This all sounds so familiar...

    (Added) To clarify something for comments: the Power Line post was written by Paul Mirengoff who is the one who writes about sports. Scott Johnson covers the music scene, while John Hinderaker is on the beauty pageant beat.


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