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Dropping the ball

06/12/06 12:00AM By Brian Porto
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(HOST)Commentator Brian Porto is concerned that current trends in college sports may have unintended - and unfortunate - consequences on our health later in life.

(PORTO) Many colleges have eliminated "Olympic" (or nonrevenue) sports in order to balance their budgets while still complying with Title IX, the federal law that requires the percentages of male and female athletes at a college to be substantially proportional to the percentages of male and female undergraduates at that college.

The most recent example of this phenomenon is the University of New Hampshire, where, earlier this year, the athletic department eliminated men's and women's tennis, men's swimming, and women's crew, and cut its men's ski team by half, effective this fall. The cuts will shrink a one million dollar athletic budget deficit by half while ensuring compliance with Title IX.

In making these cuts, UNH joined the dubious company of colleges that have passed up a chance to change the culture of college sports by requiring "marquee" spectator sports, namely, football and basketball, to trim their budgets in order to save an Olympic sport from elimination. For too long, colleges have retained bloated rosters in football and princely budgets in football, basketball and, in some cases, ice hockey. That may make sense at colleges where those sports are profitable, but it is nonsensical at athletically low-profile colleges like UNH, where neither the spectator sports nor the Olympic sports make money.

To make matters worse, the sports that UNH eliminated are lifetime sports, which men and women can enjoy, and even compete in, long after graduation. Colleges should promote lifetime sports, not eliminate them, because a recent study indicates that individuals who are physically active as college seniors will probably still be physically active six years after graduation. But instead of educating the "whole person" by investing wisely in lifetime sports and longterm fitness, colleges continue to favor sports that benefit a select few for only a brief time.

That choice flows from the misguided view that success in the spectator sports will enhance institutional prestige and visibility. The evidence suggests otherwise. For example, the University of Oklahoma lost five times as many football games in the 1990s as in the 1980s, yet its enrollment increased by more than two thousand and donations to it nearly tripled during the '90s. Moreover, data consistently show that colleges receiving the highest volume of donations from alumni and friends are academically selective and usually lack high sports profiles.

Thus, colleges, like UNH, that have cut lifetime sports, while giving their spectator sports a free pass, have sacrificed the wellness of their students and alumni for no good reason. They have "dropped the ball" in front of a nationwide audience.

Brian Porto is an attorney and a free lance writer.
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