The University of Cincinnati announced Tuesday that beginning this fall it would begin a campaign to reinstate and enhance its funding for all of its athletic programs.
The immediacy of the decision is a win for the school’s Olympic sports, especially the men’s track and field, men’s cross country and men’s swimming and diving programs which had all of their scholarship funding cut four years ago.
The long-term impact of the decision could be greater for UC as it attempts to keep its place in the ever-changing landscape of college sports. The Big East as it has been known is no more, while the Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, Southeastern Conference and Atlantic Coast Conferences continue to expand.
If UC wants to stay with the Big Boys of college sports, especially in football, it needs to embrace its entire department. That’s exactly what athletic director Whit Babcock’s decision does.
“To consistently win championships and compete at the level we aspire, we must provide the resources necessary for our coaches to recruit, retain, and graduate our student-athletes who proudly represent the Bearcats,” said Babcock in a press release from the university. “We’ve been ‘fully funded’ in football, men’s basketball, women’s basketball, and some other sports for a number of years, but today is a big step in the right direction to afford all of our sports and student-athletes that same opportunity. It’s a critical time in our history and this is significant for our future.”
The ACC last year decided to accept Louisville’s bid for the conference over that of UC and Connecticut. It’s not hard to figure out why. Beyond success on its respective fields of play – the Cardinals defeated Florida in the Sugar Bowl this past season, they went to the Final Four in basketball last season and are the top seed in this year’s tournament – Louisville has a plan of action in place that includes it entire athletic department.
According to the U.S. Department of Education’s Equity in Athletics Data Analysis, Louisville’s athletic budget for 2011-12 was $84,483,791. While the Cardinals spent a lot, they also made a profit of $3,356,713. Louisville had 640 participants in its 19 sports (the analysis grouped outdoor and indoor track and field as well as cross country as one sport).
UC’s budget for that same year was $39,577,731 and it operated without profit or loss of revenue. The Bearcats had 462 participants in 17 sports.
UConn’s athletic department operated from a deficit of $17,346,550 from its budget of $63,828,624. The Huskies had 641 participants in its 20 sports.
While that is just raw data and there are several other factors that come into play when looking at those numbers (capital improvements for instance), at the heart of matter is an athletic department’s mission. Does it have one?
Babcock just publicly defined UC’s. That doesn’t mean UC has to magically double its budget overnight but it does mean that whatever it commits to can’t be done halfway.
New football coach Tommy Tuberville committed a donation of $300,000 to the project, which includes UC asking increased donations from its UCATS booster members.
“I’m making this commitment because it’s the right thing to do,” Tuberville said in the release. “These student-athletes compete as hard as all of us. They need to know we fully support them and their sports. We are all part of one team here at UC and winning is contagious. It starts with players, it starts with scholarships.”
That is music to the ears of cross country and track and field coach Bill Schnier. Schnier is retiring after this season, his 33rd at UC. He has coached 136 individual conference champions, 25 NCAA national championship meet qualifiers, 10 All-Americans and two Olympic medalists in Mary Wineberg and David Payne.
Schnier said the announcement allows him to leave UC with a much better feeling for the university than he would have had a couple of months ago.
“It’s going to benefit everyone. Every team in the Olympic sports that wasn’t fully funded out of state is going to benefit. We’re all into it together,” said Schnier. “I know the first time I met Tommy he talked about recruiting people for track, allowing them to run on the track team and working together. He’s clearly a person who has a cooperative spirit, not trying to hoard everything for himself. Believe me, that’s very refreshing.”
When the budget cuts were announced in 2009, Wineberg and Payne were out front in voicing their displeasure with the decision and what it would mean not to just the running programs but the athletic department as a whole.
“Over the years we continued to make our comments but what helped out was the fact of the new coach (Tuberville) coming in and publicly stating his opinion on Olympic sports and wanting to bring those back,” said Wineberg. “A big thing also has to do with the athletic director really wanting to make it equal for all sports, not just have certain sports funded but really make it even.”
Wherever UC ends up in this constant shuffling of conferences, Tuesday’s decision will ultimately help.