Were All Avenues Explored?

Listening to the public statements from officials of the WVU Department of Intercollegiate Athletics as they presented their rationale for the decision to eliminate five Olympic sports and talking to others associated with the Department, it just doesn't seem to add up...

Mike Parsons, Deputy Director of Athletics, maintains that WVU explored every possible avenue for reducing Department expenditures before they considered elimination of programs. While that may indeed be true, it was what he didn't say that is conspicuous in its absence...that WVU also explored every possible avenue to increase revenues. Further, it's unlikely the departmental budget will be reduced as a result of this; rather the $600,000 "saved" will be expended against the remaining programs).

Ed Pastilong, Director of Athletics, maintains, "This is a decision for the future." But how can "saving" a mere $600,000 a year – a scant 2.5% of the $24 million annual budget for the Department of Intercollegiate Athletics – have a meaningful and substantial impact on the long-term viability of the Department? (Yet, to make this 2.5% available to the remaining 16 sports, they've decided to eliminate 16% of the athletic scholarships, reducing the total number the Department will offer to less than 300.)

Indeed, given the absence of tuition waivers, half of the funds "saved" as a result of terminating these five sports will be consumed by next year's tuition increases (9.5% for in-state; 11% for out-of-state). Thus, this is not a long-term solution but a "fix" for an immediate problem; which seems to be at odds with Pastilong's public statement that there are no problems. If the long-term viability of the Department was truly at issue, a more substantial "savings" in expenditures (10% or more) would be necessary. What happens in just a few years time, when this small 2.5% "savings" has been usurped by the inevitable increases in the cost of doing business (at least half of which will occur next school term)? Well, they can't eliminate any more programs and remain NCAA Division-1A, which requires a minimum of 16 scholarship programs be maintained. The alternatives are to render the remaining men's Olympic sports uncompetitive by cutting their budgets to the bare minimum (they may be at the bare minimum now) or drop the entire Department down to D-IAA or lower.

With an annual operating budget of only $150,000, surely WVU could have found a few alumni or friends of the University more than willing and able to establish an endowment which would fully fund the Rifle program – with its 13 national team championships, 14 individual national champions, 12 Olympians and 65 All-Americans – in the same way that the Wrestling program is supported by a substantial endowment. The "bang-for-the-buck" in having such an inexpensive yet internationally regarded (yes, marquee) program – in terms of recognition and prestige, is invaluable and not to be ill-considered.

WVU without a rifle team...the Mountaineer might as well not carry a musket.

The NCAA has not threatened to pull its sanction from rifle as a sport. So long as there are a sufficient number of schools participating, as there is currently, the NCAA will continue to sanction the sport. To use this as the rationale to kill the most storied rifle program in the country – and WVU's most successful sports program period – doesn't appear substantiated by fact and is extremely shortsighted. WVU is to rifle what UCLA is to Basketball. So what does it say to their fellow NCAA member institutions when WVU abandons the premier rifle program in the history of the sport? By killing rifle locally, it is WVU – not the NCAA – who by deed is dealing the fatal blow on the national level. No doubt the repercussions are already being felt by their fellow rifle programs across the country.

The operating budgets of the other 4 sports are equally insignificant in comparison to the overall Department budget. Yet they will be no more.

And don't get me started about Title IX. I'm convinced there is more to this story than just Title IX.

The most alarming aspect of these events – which admittedly are not limited to West Virginia but is an appalling trend throughout the NCAA – is that the true virtues of sport are being usurped by the business of sports. Olympic sports, being non-revenue, are as close to the ideal – where the only remaining true amateurs compete just for the sake of competition – as you will find in major college athletics. There is no expectation of revenue generation and no expectation of huge throngs in the stands. Olympic sports stand on their on merits – sport in it's purest form. But rather than be protected as they should be, one-by-one (or five), Olympic sports are disappearing in the U.S.

I contacted and met with Morgan (Mike) Mosser (1972), four-time All-American and national champion in the indoor 1,000 yds, member of the WVU Sports Hall of Fame, and long-time (former) President of the Varsity Club – a true (gold and) blue Mountaineer who has devoted his entire adult life (time, effort and money) giving back to his alma mater – to get a sense for the reaction of former WVU athletes.

"It varies from shock, bitterness, to outright anger," Mike admits. "My phone has been ringing off-the-hook since the announcement and to a person, no one is happy. They want to know how this happened. And all are disappointed that WVU did not seek their help to keep it from happening."

These programs have brought immeasurable recognition to the University over the years. Combined, they have produced 13 national team championships, 15 individual national champions, 15 Olympians and 84 All-Americans. To eliminate these sports is an overreaction to the current fiscal challenges. Is there not a better answer? Are fund-raising efforts so focused on football that there is no emphasis on securing financial support for Olympic sports – particularly men's sports? It's difficult to believe that WVU's alumni and friends would have turned their back on WVU's Olympic sports if they had only been asked.

Even now, officials have publicly said that the Department is in fine shape...no problems here.

Yet, this Administration has overseen the recent collapse of both basketball programs, and a downturn in its football program. And now, it has deliberately caused the collapse of men's Olympic sports at the University – and has done so by what appears to be an arbitrary decision which only considered half the accounting ledger, never considering the options available on the other side. But unlike football and basketball, there is no possibility, except perhaps rifle, that these programs will be rebuilt – such is the workings of politically-contrived solutions, one may be saved while the others are sacrificed.

That the revenue sports are in the process of being rebuilt is obvious. The Department is coming off a bowl season in football and a basketball season in which attendance was the largest in several years. Even the preceding year, in which the football program went an abysmal 3-8 and basketball suffered through an all-time worst 8-20, the media reported that the Department still managed to finish the year in the "black." And yet, programs are being eliminated.

No department that cuts programs is in fine shape. The repercussions will reverberate far past the demise of these sports. WVU's reputation is tarnished. The sudden bomb-shell of an announcement and the dreadful impact on student-athletes will be used against WVU in the recruiting wars of the remaining 16 programs. It's about trust and commitment.

The message must be sent that supporters of Mountaineer athletics want more than just football and basketball...that the Olympic ideal should be alive and well at WVU...that the Department of Intercollegiate Athletics must implement a focused plan to assure the continued viability of the remaining 16 programs, including the endowment of Olympic sports...and that supporters (backers/contributors) belly-up or risk the possibility of losing D-1A status.

Special thanks to WVU track great, Mike Mosser, for contributing to this article.

Jason Todd is a frequent contributor and guest columnist at BlueGoldNews.com. The opinions expressed herein are his own.

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