Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Hanging by a thread

These are the things the dreamers didn't tell us about, back when the dream seemed to make sense. Maybe it still does -- maybe once you go down a certain path, turning back becomes impossible -- but it sure doesn't seem so right now.

Not when the women's tennis team at IPFW is headed out to Denver, Omaha and South Dakota, with one unplanned stop added to its itinerary.

That would be "oblivion."

Cash-strapped athletic departments do not make a tidy fit with cash-strapped universities in general, and so last weekend the former at IPFW metaphorically fell on its sword to help the latter. The immediate victims were the men's and women's tennis programs, which will both be eliminated to save $450,000 annually -- not a small consideration for an athletic department which, like a fair number of  D-I athletic departments, is not self-sustaining.

Its annual  $7.5 million budget ranks 216th out of 230 NCAA Division I schools, and a good chunk of that comes from student activity fees. The worst part is that eliminating the tennis programs takes IPFW down to 14 sports, the minimum required by the NCAA to maintain a Division I presence.

So they're hangin' by their fingernails.

And again you're compelled to ask, as we were 15 years ago when all this happened, if D-I athletics is a feasible play for schools with IPFW's resources. With the exception of the men's volleyball team's visits to the Final Four and the men's basketball team's near-brush with the NCAA Tournament last year, the national exposure promised by the D-I architects has never materialized. That it still could, of course, is always out there. And that's why taking a step back to D-II remains an unthinkable prospect.

Here's what I know: Without IPFW going D-I, a lot of what's happened on the campus in the last 15 years would not have happened. If the national exposure never happened, the mere cache of Division I raised the school's own image of itself. It went from being a commuter school to an actual university, drawing students from all over the world into its orbit.

 And a lot of those students came here to play basketball or volleyball or soccer or, yes, tennis. Their presence has enriched campus life and made it a far more cosmopolitan environment than would ever have been possible otherwise.

The cost, of course, was driven home last weekend. The elimination of the tennis programs deprives IPFW athletics of two of its brightest lights. Not only were they the school's best academic performers, they were also the most successful on the playing field, winning six conference titles combined in the last seven years. And the women's team has made the NCAA Tournament three times since 2010.

But they generated zero money, and that, by necessity, is the priority if you're a Division I entity. And so they're gone.

Money would still be issue in D-II, but obviously not to the extent it is in D-I. And so, economically, abandoning the latter might make sense. But from the standpoint of who you are as a university and to what you ultimately aspire, it makes none.

Let's Be Smalltime Again, after all, has never been much of a mission statement. Or a rallying cry.

No comments:

Post a Comment