The head of the United States Olympic Committee said recently that the organization has a $5 million donor prepared to invest in preserving Olympic sports at colleges.
During a speech in Washington, USOC CEO Scott Blackmun called on an “urgent” need for the USOC to develop partnerships with the NCAA that keep lower-profile sports alive as the college model changes. Some college administrators fear that recent — and possibly future — court rulings removing some restrictions on athlete compensation will cause some universities to drop certain Olympic sports.
Blackmun noted that since 1981 college men’s gymnastics teams dropped from 59 to 16, women’s gymnastics teams from 99 to 62, and wrestling teams from 146 to 77.
“As somebody who knows about this recently said to me, no college athletic director has ever been fired for terminating an Olympic sport program,” Blackmun said. “Our concern stated very bluntly is that the inevitable reallocation of resources in college athletics will make it even more difficult for Olympic sport programs to survive.”
College programs in part help develop and train athletes who participate for the United States at the Olympics. Blackmun said the USOC wants to form a working group with the NCAA.
“Can we use our great Olympic brand or the event experience of our national governing bodies to build revenue-generating properties for conferences and schools?” Blackmun said. “Can we find a way for colleges to use their Olympic identities to recruit athletes and coaches and perhaps build facilities? Can our national bodies host national championships and conference championships in our sports?”
Blackmun stopped short of the USOC supporting the NCAA’s rules preventing high-profile athletes from being paid.
“We need to figure this out in a way that doesn’t cause us to lose college sports on the Olympic side,” Blackmun said. “I don’t know what the answer is to that question because obviously those athletes create a heck of a lot of value, and I’m not sure we’ve adequately answered the question — not necessarily why don’t we give them all of that money, but why haven’t we done more for them?”
The speech was part of a second forum in recent months sponsored by the Big 12 about the state of college sports. Panelists included media members and current and former athletic directors.
During one panel, former Congressman Tom McMillen said a bill will soon be introduced in Congress by retiring Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) to establish a presidential commission to study college athletics. The idea is similar to the President’s Commission on Olympic Sports that was created by Gerald Ford in 1975.
The Olympic commission came in response to conflicts among the NCAA, Amateur Athletic Union and U.S. Olympic Committee over athletes’ rights and the amateur status of participants in games. The issue also got pushed by America’s international struggles in the Olympics.
The commission led to the Olympic and Amateur Sports Act of 1978, which established the USOC as the coordinating Olympic body in the United States. The act chartered a national governing body for each sport and required that active athletes have a 20 percent share of the voting seats on each of the 39 new U.S. Olympic committees.
Kansas athletic director Sheahon Zenger said he expects issues facing college sports to reach Congress. The NCAA spent $230,000 on lobbying from July through September, with a total of $470,000 for 2014 so far, according to public disclosure documents, which were first reported by Bloomberg. The NCAA’s previous high on lobbying spending since 2000 was $180,000.
The latest three-month period in lobbying costs was for “issues relating to research on sports concussions to improve prevention, identification and treatment efforts; and issues relating to intercollegiate athletics and the well-being of student-athletes,” the NCAA wrote on its disclosure form.
Texas women’s athletic director Chris Plonsky said college sports needs an outside organization “with some teeth in it” to enforce NCAA rules — echoing a statement some major conference commissioners have said in recent months.
“If that happens to be with a government-type agency, that’s where we need to start on that,” Plonsky said. “Some of the rules on how we feed (players), when we feed them, those are so easy to fix. But what you can’t just fix are integrity, lack of ethics and people who just want to play by a different rulebook. That’s hurting college athletics in the nationwide perception.”