Saturday, September 29, 2012

The NCAA Crisis: Surviving

Guess how much it costs to run a Division I men's gymnastics program. The person who comes the closest without going over wins a date with Sam Mikulak.

I suspect these lovely ladies would rather be on Sam's arm than Bob Barker's arm. Just a guess.

Drum roll please.

In 2009, men's gymnastics programs averaged

Roughly $540,000

in expenses.

Now, guess how much revenue the men's gymnastics programs generated.

Roughly $33,000

for a net revenue of -$433,000.1 Compared to the national debt, which was nearing $12 trillion in 2009, men's gymnastics programs were doing quite well. Actually, men's gymnastics programs were doing better than baseball, lacrosse, soccer, swimming, track and field, and volleyball.

Generated revenue includes only the money earned by a particular athletics program. It does not include the allocated revenue, which comes from indirect institutional support, direct institutional support, student fees, and direct governmental support.

Even so, $433,000 is a lot of money.  So, how do universities make it work?

1. Have Good Football Teams

Here's the catch in all of this. While football is taking up precious numbers in terms of proportionality, the pigskin barbarians are able to subsidize some of the remaining men's gymnastics teams. 

Granted, some of the money probably comes from booster clubs, etc. BUT the remaining gymnastics programs (except Cal, Chitown, and William and Mary) are attached to schools with football teams that consistently are among the top 50 most profitable football programs. (Minnesota is towards the bottom of that list, and it almost lost its men's gymnastics team back in 2002.)

Because of the football profits, some athletics departments do not need to turn to the university and beg for subsidies. Others only have to ask for a minimum amount. Universities like this. In fact, they like this a lot, and it keeps sports from being put on the chopping block.

2. If you don't have a good football team, you make yourself as financially bulletproof as possible.

One way to do that is to pay your coaches less.

These are not the base salaries that colleges pay their coaches. The numbers listed here most likely include money from endorsements, etc.

Another way to become bulletproof is to fundraise like crazy. For example, Mike Burns at the University of Minnesota has raised money to partially endow the program's scholarships. In the Chronicle of Higher Education article, Mr. Burns does not reveal all of his fundraising secrets, but it's well-known that some programs host summer camps. Others, like Stanford's team, host joint college-club gymnastics meets.

I don't know how lucrative any of these endeavors are, but what they do do (ha!) is form bonds between the university and the gymnastics community. In times of need, those bonds are vital for survival, as we saw when the gymnastics community pulled together to help the Golden Bears.

Unfortunately, as Thom Glielmi, the Stanford coach, has pointed out, endowing programs can have drawbacks. He says, "If one program gets endowed, is another athletic director going to say, 'Hey, you need to get endowed or we're going to drop you'?" he says. "You want to do all you can to be a good example, but you don't want to make it more difficult for others to exist."

Yes, I do understand that it's strange hearing this come from the lips of a man who works at a school with a ginormous endowment. (Stanford's team is not just rolling in the dough, though.) Nevertheless, it's refreshing to hear that intercollegiate men's gymnastics programs are not participating in the cut-throat money game that runs college football.

Seriously, I'm happy to hear that the remaining teams take into consideration the financial well-being of the other programs. (Even though I'm sure they all want to win the NCAA Championships.)

Unfortunately, my dear reader, I cannot tell you how you can support these teams financially. I have yet to find booster sites on the web, but universities like Oklahoma have what they call the "Sooner Club." If anyone knows how you can donate specifically to men's gymnastics programs, please leave a comment below.

3. You have competition

It might be hard to believe, but most colleges don't like having a sports team that does not have any competitors. Err, it's called intercollegiate sports for a reason. So, here's a breakdown of the remaining Division I teams according to their conferences.

  • Pac 10: 2 teams
    • California
    • Stanford
  • Big 12: 1 team (Nebraska used to be in this conference)
    • Oklahoma
  • Big 10: 7 teams
    • Illinois
    • Iowa
    • Michigan
    • Minnesota
    • Nebraska
    • Ohio State
    • Penn State
  • Eastern Intercollegiate Gymnastics League: 6 teams
    • Army
    • Navy
    • Springfield (Division III)
    • Temple
    • University of Illinois-Chicago
    • William and Mary
  • Mountain West Conference
    • Air Force
The Pac 10 and Big 12 teams are worrisome. Have you ever seen the men's gymnastics schedule for Cal?
We must remember that this schedule was redacted after Cal almost lost its team and was operating on a tight budget. But have you looked at Stanford's schedule? It's not much better.
When you compete against the same two teams over and over and over, just how intercollegiate is your sport? Don't get me wrong; as a lover of college gymnastics, I am thrilled that the Cal gymnastics team was saved, but I can also see how an administrator would think, Is this worth it?

By the way, Oklahoma, being on the other side of the Rockies, travels a bit more.

4. Your students do well in school

Do some sports get away with having student-athletes who are not very good at the student part? Probably, but maintaining a good GPA certainly helps when the sport is an endangered species.

The silver lining: Yes, I'm about to get preachy...

I'm sure that there are other ways that universities are staying afloat, and I could conclude this series by trying to devise ways to add more NCAA gymnastics teams. Instead,  I'd like to close this series with a gentle reminder...

For whatever reason, we tend to treat intercollegiate varsity sports as the end-all-be-all of collegiate athletics. For whatever reason, we promulgate the belief that if you didn't make a varsity men's gymnastics team, your gymnastics career must end after high school.

But that's not the truth. In fact, that's a terrible distortion of the truth. Somehow, in the hullabaloo about the decimation of college men's gymnastics, we forget that numerous universities offer men's gymnastics as a club sport.

Seriously, look at the list! There are many universities with club gymnastics!

And these gymnasts compete! Their competitive careers aren't over!

Granted, they might not have as many meets as a varsity squad, and their skill level might not be as high as that of, say, Sam Mikulak or Eddie Penev. You might see some single back tucks instead of double layouts or double fulls instead of triple fulls. But who cares? These men have the chance to participate in a sport they love, and that, at the end of the day, is what it's all about--giving men (and women) the opportunity to do something they enjoy. It doesn't always have to be at the varsity level.

Does this mean that I think we should throw in the towel when it comes to fighting for varsity men's gymnastics? No. I just think that we need to stop and smell the roses, and there are roses in the cesspool of collegiate athletics.


1. Please note that this is for FBS schools, which are Football Bowl Subdivision schools. The FCS schools (Football Championships Subdivision) schools have lower costs ($159,000). They generate more money ($82,000). And they are not as far in the hole (-$77,000). Of the Stalwart 17, William and Mary is the only FCS school. Other examples include Harvard, Yale, Southern Illinois, Villanova...


  1. I'm a fan. That's it. I never did gymnastics, I don't have kids that did gymnastics, and I'm never going to.

    I bled a bit of green for California. I'm not the Chancellor of UC Berkeley, so I can't answer for him if it was really worth it to save California even though half it's meets are against Stanford.

    All I can say is that it was worth it for me. I've heard California AD Sandy Barbour speak on the subject, and get the impression it was worth it for her.

    If men's NCAA varsity gymnastics disappeared, the experience of participating in gymnastics might not be over for the guys involved, but the type of experiences I had as a fan would be over for me. It varsity men's NCAA gymnastics disappears, there will no longer be any more roses for me to smell.

    It's not just (or even mostly) the quality of the the gymnastics. Club teams (as they should be) are centered around the participation experience, not towards fans.

    I've heard this story about "why not just have a club team, why is that not good enough, varsity isn't the only thing..." after California lost it's team (for a while). The thing is, California already had a club team. That these people did not even know that speaks volumes.

  2. Here is the link which allows one to make a donation to California:

  3. OH eFF MEE. Google keeps trying to make me sign in. If you don't sign in then Google dumps your comment into a black home...

    Fewer opportunities to view a sport are part of what kills it. Fewer opportunities means fewer chances to attract fans. Fewer and fewer people to support means less financial support too. Less apppreciation at the top means fewer participants in club activities too.

  4. hole!!!! OMG. After retyping and making the same mistake three times on signing in Google makes me look like a rascist. Eff me.