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06/18/07 12:00AM By Brian Porto
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(HOST) From burgers to batting scores, we usually think that bigger is better, but commentator Brian Porto thinks that downsizing can be a good thing - especially when it comes to academic sports.

(PORTO) Downsizing to save money is not unique to corporations; it happens in college athletic departments, too. Athletic department downsizing usually eliminates sports such as gymnastics and swimming, which costs alot of money but don't earn any. This kind of downsizing is regrettable because it reduces opportunities to play sports without addressing the real budget busters, namely, football and men's basketball.

But a good form of downsizing has occurred recently at Birmingham Southern College, a small liberal arts school in Alabama. Faced with an unsustainable six million dollar deficit, Birmingham Southern decided to leave the NCAA's prestigious and expensive Division I and to join Division III, where athletic scholarships are prohibited.

The chair of the board of Trustees spearheaded the move after concluding that the adverse financial consequences of remaining in Division I were too much to bear. Moody's Investors Service had downgraded the College's bonds three times in as many years, until they reached junk status in February. The College's $6.5 million sports budget represented fifteen percent of its forty-two million dollar operating budget, and it offered just one academic scholarship, compared to one hundred and sixteen athletic scholarships.

Far more favorable statistics will result from joining Division III. Birmingham Southern's teams will now play in a conference whose members are similar to it in size and educational mission. Eliminating athletic scholarships is expected to generate $1.75 million a year in savings. Most importantly, the savings realized from the move to Division III will enable the College to add five new sports to its athletic offerings in the near future. The new sports will help the College to provide athletic opportunities to twice as many athletes as it could accommodate while a member of Division I.

Congratulations are surely in order. Despite living in a state and region that worship big-time college sports, the leaders of Birmingham Southern College have learned what colleges in Vermont and New Hampshire have known for a long time, namely, that in college sports, less is more and small is beautiful. By spending less on each sport, a college can create additional opportunities for participation, enabling more students to benefit from playing sports. That's the kind of downsizing that I can support!

Brian Porto is an attorney and a free lance writer.

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