Temple University recently took heat in the media and on-campus from student-athletes, fans and outside observers alike, for the announced cuts of seven sports from within their athletic department. The Owls department features an FBS football team that allows them an additional source of television revenue, but their 24 sports offerings were a large number - too large for the university to support.
The parallel to Villanova isn't hard to see. The two athletic departments are not just physically-close, but not so dissimilar after you look past the classification of their football teams. Villanova also offers 24 varsity sports, never draws an SEC- or Big Ten-sized football crowd, and largely considers basketball its' crown-jewel. The furthest opponent in the new Big East is 1,216 miles away, which is only a little better than Temple's furthest trip (1,278 miles to Tulsa).
According to Temple officials, it wasn't just the annual budget for the cut programs that caused a stir in the Athletic department, but the investment required to maintain them. For women's rowing, for example, Temple's boathouse was not just in disrepair, but was actually condemned, and it would cost tens of millions to fix or repair that facility to be suitable for use again. Men's baseball was bussing athletes back and forth between North Broad Street and Ambler, PA and other sports had similar issues.
The travel for these sports was also a change. The Temple football team, with a scheduled game against Idaho this season, travelled 6,391 miles in 2013, their other sports will average 973.45 miles per road-trip within the conference and the only opponent closer than 400 miles is UConn.
Villanova's conference travel looks infinitely more manageable with an average road-trip of 510 miles. Two of the Wildcats' regular college foes are less than 100 miles away from Philadelphia too. The new Big East has a few associate members that could skew those averages in non-revenue sports (and it could add more as Louisville and Rutgers off-load to new homes), including massive road-trips to Denver in lacrosse, at 1,726 miles.
The cost of traveling in non-revenue sports can vary, and distance may not be a concern. Most of these long road-trips are flights to-and-from major airport hubs. With one stop in Cincinnati, for example, you could book a flight from Philadelphia to Denver at the end of February for $58 roundtrip right now - and even if that is a mind-blowing sale price, the cost of flying between major cities isn't as tied to distance as you might think.
Football took the heat, but was that really the reason for the failing? If the Owls had dropped the pigskin sport from their offerings years ago, it isn't clear that they would be much-better situated right now - they just don't have the cash to invest in these sports to keep them viable.
As unfair as it is to the student-athletes whose programs are cut, it is also rather unfair to ask them to compete with substandard facilities. Forget how many seats are available for the friends and family of these players, think about the actual turf or floor they play on, the places they practice, workout, or the educational support that they receive at home or on the road.
Combine that facilities "race to the top" with the demands of Title IX, that want equal athletic opportunities and scholarships for women, and you have some interesting challenges. Most schools spend more total money and scholarship money on men's athletics. Women's basketball allows more scholarships than men's under NCAA rules to offset this, but that isn't enough in most-cases. Most schools have more women than men enrolled, and that means that it is hard to justify any significant lean toward the masculine.
No doubt, Temple spends more on football than any other sport; $13 million in the 2012-13 school year, according to a report filed with the Federal Department of Education (and filed by 2004 Villanova alum, Harry Metzinger, who is the CFO of Temple's athletics department). Temple spent $10,990,807 on non-revenue sports, according to the same report, which is a lot, considering that almost all of their television and game day revenue is rightfully allocated to the football team and men's basketball team that account for less than half of the department's total expenses (41.6%).
At Villanova, only men's basketball can reasonably be considered a revenue-sport, and with expenses of $7,399,471, it accounts for just 21.7% of the university's total athletic expenses. With just 21.7% of the department generating significant revenue (forget profits for the moment), is the Villanova athletics program ripe for it's own cuts?
Recently, the blog Fact on Villanova Theater posited that it may only be a matter of time before those cuts are made.
If Villanova were to offer a full-allotment of scholarships in every sport, then over 95% of Villanova's scholarships would be allotted to sports that offer no significant inflow of revenue. That is one of the reasons that the school has not awarded a full allotment in many sports and has offered next to no scholarships in some. Add in coaches salaries, facilities costs and the human resources it takes to put together schedules, handle compliance issues and support the travel and academic support for 360 male and 333 female athletes.
Blame Jay Wright, but the Wildcats also spend more on coaching salaries than Temple did with the same number of sports — $4,023,162 to Temple's $3,125,118. A gap of a little-under $1 million, which shouldn't surprise, as well-paid as Fran Dunphy is, Wright has locked up a spot as one of college basketball's payroll-elites. Perhaps if Temple football held on to a winning coach long enough, they would see that number eclipse Villanova's.
Both schools have television deals that provide their largest single sources of revenue for athletics and neither rights deal will expire anytime soon. Neither school's revenue streams cover the expenses of their most expensive sports.
Temple's cuts will save the school around $3 million per year and help the Owls to get closer to where they need to be for Title IX compliance. It hasn't just been Temple, however, nor has cutting sports been limited to football schools.
Robert Morris, a Northeastern Conference school that narrowly missed an upset bid over Villanova in the 2010 NCAA Tournament, is cutting seven programs. The University of Delaware cut their century-old men's track and cross country programs. Seton Hall went from 17 teams to 14 teams in 2010-11, after cutting four programs -- eliminating successful track and field teams to save $1.5 million annually.
The average number of sports sponsored by a Division I-AA athletics program nationally is 19.6 teams. The Big East itself organizes competition in 22 sports, but the average member sponsors just 17.5 varsity teams. In other words, Villanova is outpacing its peers.
The Ohio State Buckeyes also outpace their peers, sponsoring 19 men's athletic programs and 20 women's programs, but they also rake in over $142 million per year in athletic revenue (second only to Texas). The Buckeyes generate so much money from football and basketball tickets, television and other sources that they are one of the few departments in the country that can turn an overall profit -- despite funding so many teams.
Without a comparable level of financial clout, the Wildcats may ultimately find themselves looking a similar situation to Temple. Cutting sports is a trend throughout most of the unprofitable-ranks of Division I athletics. It has little to do with the overall state of the university either, Robert Morris has never had better enrollment, RMU just never really lined up the funding to compete in all of the sports they sponsored, and eventually needed to re-focus.
Of course, the question of which sports would go is tough to answer. Football is expensive, but donors and alumni interest is tied up enough in that program to keep it around at some level. Rowing needs a big facilities improvement, but the large number of female participants is likely vital for the school's Title IX compliance. Baseball plays in a middling facility with little success far from campus, but they are also the school's oldest program, and the third oldest in the country. Perhaps the easiest cut, as Delaware and Seton Hall found, would be Track and Field -- even though it may be Villanova's most storied program.
There are no real rumblings from the Main Line that the athletic department is considering any of these cuts. Luckily, for the student-athletes at Villanova, these sort of moves are mostly the stuff of occasional message board and blog speculation.
Will Wildcats start looking to "align" to their situation within the new Big East conference as Temple did with the AAC? No talk about it now, doesn't mean that a time won't come in the future when these issues will be discussed behind closed doors in the Field House and Trustees' board room.