The financial disruptions of the pandemic are difficult to overstate, particularly when considering collegiate athletics. As schools across the country have turned to slashing entire programs from their athletics departments, some are considering seeking help to fund Olympic sports from the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee.
According to the Associated Press, which sent a survey to Division I athletic directors, 65 percent of respondents said that the Committee should pay some portion of the costs universities put forth to run programs that ultimately wind up feeding the U.S. Olympic teams.
The AP reports that by one estimate, collegiate athletics spends $5 billion annually on Olympic sports — a sum that contributes to the nation’s Olympic dominance. To illustrate the point, the AP reports that since 2000, the U.S. has won a world-leading 678 medals in the Olympic Games. During the 2016 Olympics in Rio, nearly 80 percent of the country’s 558 athletes competed in a collegiate program.
"The fact that we're one of the few countries that competes at the level we do on the Olympic stage without having the government fund the program is because of college athletics and what it does to develop Olympic athletes," Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin told the AP.
Stricklin is leading a task force of collegiate athletics officials seeking to keep the U.S. at the top when it comes to Olympic competition. However, changes to the collegiate sports landscape — both caused by the pandemic and by changes to policy — could spell trouble on the horizon.
Most of the teams schools have eliminated during the pandemic have been in Olympic sports.
Former University of Minnesota gymnast Shane Wiskus moved to the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo., after Minnesota announced plans to shut down its men’s gymnastics program.
"NCAA gymnastics has done a lot for me and I do fear that if changes aren't made, that could go away and maybe even affect the Olympic process."
Meanwhile, proposals for NIL rules have some athletic directors worried, too. The AP survey asked ADs whether any sports at their schools could lose funding or be cut outright if they offered compensation beyond scholarships to student-athletes. Among those that responded, 73 percent answered that question with a “Yes.”