Here is another insightful article by our southern friend Tex (although I’ve never really heard Texas as being referred to as ‘southern’) – more like its own country or something. This also ties into some comments made about Pitt’s other sports during the BB thread last afternoon.
That’s a landscape game I play every Spring. After taking an assessment on how my shrubs and trees performed over the winter. If they are dead, it’s an easy decision – rip them out. If they are still alive, then I ask are they strong enough to survive the impending summer heat? Will they last through another winter? Personal note – I barely made it through this Winter losing electricity, heat and water for several days.
Now granted, I’ve made some mistakes over time in planting varieties that just aren’t good fits for the Texas climate and soil. Therefore, I make a rational business decision each Spring to cut or keep while leaving emotions out of it regardless how much I love the shrub or tree.
The same can be said of college athletic teams. Covid has brought about a very harsh winter in college sports. Revenues are down significantly due to nearly non-existent ticket sales. Donations are substantially lower given the economic malaise and shutdowns. Moreover, Covid caused unplanned costs in regards to testing and other newly implemented health protocols designed to keep players and staff safe.
So since my landscape decision is about two weeks away, I’ve decided to take a fun twist on this subject and apply it to Pitt’s athletic landscape of 19 trees (teams that is) to determine which ones should be cut or kept. To separate the winners from the losers. To find the ones that are the best fit for the ACC climate.
Just do a simple google search and you’ll find many schools have already gone through this painful but necessary exercise. Given the decline in revenues and higher costs associated with Covid, many schools re-evaluated their sports teams.
Stanford was the first Power 5 school to cut several of their teams in an effort to save costs and stop the hemorrhaging. Other schools followed by eliminating secondary or Olympic sports, instituting hiring freezes, cutting athletic staff, and cutting salaries.
Thus far, Pitt has not eliminated any of their 19 teams in a response to Covid. I don’t believe that Pitt is vaccinated or immune to how Covid has fundamentally changed the long term athletic landscape. At some point, Pitt will need to make the tough business decision and eliminate certain sports that just aren’t good fits for the ACC and are financial drains. My analysis will focus on those sports that are most viable for long term success.
In college athletics, football and basketball are your prized and profitable sports. Those two add significant value to your brand and help subsidize the secondary or Olympic sports. The $30 million dollar check that Pitt receives from the ACC each year is entirely driven by football and basketball. Think of those sports as the two most prominent Oak trees in your front lawn. The secondary sports are all the trees planted in your back yard. Every secondary sport loses money. It’s just a matter of how much.
However, despite the conference money, most colleges run a deficit operating athletics each year. And a Covid year means running even deeper in the red. Schools have several options at their disposal to help offset these deficits. They can eliminate programs to save costs. They can raise tuition and/or student fees. They can rely on donations and booster money.
Schools can also ‘borrow’ more money from the general fund to help balance the books and dig out of the hole. Lastly, athletic departments can borrow and take on debt (see Pitt and Victory Heights). Historically, Pitt has always borrowed money from the general fund for its operating budget. A fund that is not earmarked specifically for athletics. Pitt uses it in essence as a slush fund. Feel free to disagree but I’m not backing down from this opinion.
This continued reliance on the general fund to run at breakeven is not sustainable. And frankly in my opinion its borderline unethical and at the very least is a poor business practice. I applaud what the state of Washington made Wash State do.
Washington state is a program that had always taken monies from the general fund to dig out of their athletic hole each year. The state Legislature demanded that the university pay back those funds within a certain amount of time and to treat this practice a loan. They might have even banned the university from doing this going forward. I forget the details but found what the politicians did was admirable. (Ed Note: Here is an interesting article that outlines WS U’s plans for the financial future.)
Now for all I know, Pitt has gone through this exercise already and has identified programs that are candidates to eliminate. Pitt evidently thinks they can weather the storm and will be able to absorb some short term financial pain. But I see this new environment brought on by climate change (Covid in this case) as an opportunity to determine what trees are best suited for Pitt’s landscape, their ACC neighborhood and the new climate for collegiate athletics. Heck, even in healthy times, can Pitt really afford 19 programs given its paltry revenues and constant borrowing needs just to keep athletics afloat?
The ACC sponsors 28 sports. Each member school is required to support a minimum of 16 programs and a minimum of eight women’s only sports (Title IX). In addition, a minimum of 200 athletes must receive financial aid money or grants. The ACC is often the top conference in performance results across multiple sports as evidenced by the rankings in the Director’s Cup. It’s a very exclusive sports neighborhood and a big step up from the old Big East.
Below is my assessment on Pitt’s 19 existing teams (10 women’s and nine men’s) and which ones survive my cut. I’ve based my analysis on several factors such as historical competitiveness, facilities, recruiting success, popularity and yes the weather. Did I mention I hate snow and ice? I’m sure most athletes do as well unless you’re a hockey player. (Ed Note: See the 19 teams after the page break)