JOHNSON: Women’s hoops makes sense not dollars

Published 10:23 pm Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Another women’s basketball season in the books, another batch of checks universities across the country must write on behalf of the women’s programs.

The competition level in women’s basketball has improved dramatically since Title IX was implemented 40 years ago.

The problem is and always has been that the investment into sports like women’s basketball has far exceeded the return.

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Athletic competition is a great tool for learning and character building, but at what cost. While colleges and universities reap the majority of the benefits from education funding, athletics can sometimes exhaust them.

In 2010, the Indianapolis News Journal posted a story on its website reporting that according to National Collegiate Athletic Association financial records “53 public schools in the six largest conferences recorded operating losses last fiscal year of $109.7 million, while the men’s teams reported operating profits of $240 million.”

Not that women’s sports are the only programs draining budgets. In 2010, the University of California, Berkeley dropped baseball, men’s gymnastics and rugby was lessened to a club sport. The university also dropped several women’s sports but reinstated them along with rugby after it raised $12 million in donations.

With many states straining to fund education, why should schools continue to allocate funds to support sports programs that can’t break even?

There are two glaring issues.

First, women’s basketball, in particular, is jockeying for position on the national stage and that means money. The powerhouse programs are pumping more money into their programs in hopes of being the first to see a return.

The University of Connecticut won 90 consecutive games and three straight national titles and still lost $723,900 in 2010.

Second, the sport is not in a position to succeed.

The tournament played in the midst of the men’s action and it features too many teams.

The timing of the tournament may not be something that can be changed but the 64-team field can be adjusted. There is just not enough parody in the women’s game to support a competitive field of 64 teams.

In the third round of this year’s tournament, the Sweet Sixteen, two games were decided by 33 points or more.

Until their loss to Baylor in the National Championship Game, Notre Dame had defeated its opponents by an average of 25 points including a 44-point beat down on fifth-seeded St. Bonaventure in the third round and a 31-point smack down of Maryland in the Elite Eight.

While ESPN reported a rise in viewers for this year’s championship game – 13 percent from a year ago – the 4.2 million viewers lags far behind the men’s 20.9 million. The even more telling figure is that of the attendance for the women’s tourney. In the Elite Eight matchup between Maryland and Notre Dame, just 2,621 fans found the game intriguing enough to attend. Some of the games didn’t even record an attendance figure.

The women’s game is growing and there will be pains along the way, but the NCAA must put the sport in the best situation to succeed.

The tournament should be reduced to 32 teams, games should be played at the higher seed’s home court, and schools should require sports not breaking even to come up with ways to make up the difference.

I’m all about sports. I think sports serve as the face of most all institutions. People care about athletics. That’s the reason a combined 25.1 million people tuned in to two championship basketball games. However, the programs should also be required to pull their load financially.