Recession benches sports at many colleges

Colleges are facing tough times. Not only is it costing them more to serve their students, but enrollment is down, state funding is down and alumni and corporate giving is also down. There is increased pressure to keep costs low by not raising tuition, while at the same time there is a dramatic need for cutbacks. The recession has already caused many colleges to cut budgets until there they could no longer parse the people and programs from printers and paper. Now it's to the point where many schools have had to cut entire sports programs to balance their budgets.

The Northern Iowa Panthers are but one of the recent victims of the recession. Sports Illustrated reports that the Panthers will play their last baseball game this Saturday, after which the 103-year-old program -- which was operating at a $400,000 deficit -- will be cut like an out-of-shape freshmen. While the state budget cuts are the nail in the coffin for the team SI cites the cold weather, which batters attendance and forces teams to make costly spring training trips to the South, as a contributing factor.

Not even outraged alumni and supporters could save the Panthers, with pledges of $250,000 in annual support. Alumni groups hoped the university would pull the remaining $100,000 out of its scholarship fund, but the increased need for financial aid prevented the school from making the transfer.

The Panthers share the bench with plenty of other schools and sports. The Wall Street Journal reports that University of Massachusetts will cut soccer and swimming, and that MIT is cutting a total of eight teams, for a combined savings of $1.5 million. Even small private schools, like my alma mater, will be cutting its men's and women's tennis programs for the coming year in order to shore up its feeble budget. The school has already seen reductions in staff, faculty and programs.

The good news for players, many of which have transferred to new teams, is that the NCAA won't bar them from playing next season, since the sports aren't offered at the schools anymore. Even though I appreciate the place sports have in a college setting, having been a college athlete myself, I'm glad to see school officials focusing on their primary task of educating students. In the long run, these decisions will serve their students and their institutions the best.
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