I recently attended a conference regarding the future of college athletics sponsored by the Big XII and featuring four young, bright and successful student-athletes. The focus was primarily on issues affecting the Power Five Conferences: student-athlete stipends, image and likeness rights, the role (and cumbersome overreach) of the NCAA, etc. Esteemed members of a second panel discussion featured media personalities (all of whom played collegiate sports), a highly successful coach, a university president and the conference commissioner.
Though all panel members came with insightful, interesting conversation, kudos go out to ESPN reporter Lisa Salters in particular for being the strongest voice of support for the non-revenue sports and the schools that struggle to fund athletics programs.
This is an issue that deserves far more attention. Bob Bowlsby, commissioner of the Big XII, correctly noted that public schools are seeing a diminishment of state funding and support. He admitted that, for the likes of K-State, Oklahoma, and Texas, athletics programs can withstand this change, albeit with the potential "diminishment of sports."
To Lisa's point though, what happens to athletics at non-Power Conference schools if this trend continues? Our firm currently has two clients, both public institutions -- one NAIA and one D-I FCS -- that have very shallow pockets compared to the Power Five schools and will no doubt be faced with some tough decisions in the near future in regards to their current athletic programs.
The student-athletes on the panel very convincingly discussed and demonstrated the power that their opportunities as student-athletes have had in their development as leaders today and in the future. And that, to me, is the mission of collegiate athletics. Great athletics programs shouldn't be measured by revenues; they should be measured on the impacts they have on their schools' students.
I sincerely hope the pendulum swings back to a model of public funding for education -- one that focuses on providing opportunities for all students to grow and understand their potential as future leaders and contributors who will in turn enrich the lives of all those around them. After all, it is their lives after college and after their competitive sports careers that will truly define the success of their college experiences.
Andrew Barnard, AIA, LEED AP is president of Denver-based architecture and design firm Sink Combs Dethlefs.