Are the Chicken Littles going to win at UConn?
The words of Neil Armstrong: "Science has not yet mastered prophecy. We predict too much for the next year and yet far too little for the next 10."
I pray the many dramatis personae at UConn pause to absorb the man on the moon's words. State U is hardly alone nationally in its financial quagmire. But trying to solve it as if there's some cosmic shot clock tick-tick-ticking is far more reactionary than cautionary.
We cannot predict what's going to happen tomorrow with the coronavirus, let alone in the coming weeks and months. This idea that UConn has a "budget workshop" scheduled for mid-June is prudent enough. But published reports say the Board of Trustees will vote on budget cutting proposals — including from the department of athletics — two weeks later.
Holy hot takes, Batman. Can we at least make sure decaf is available at these meetings so that it takes the proper effect? Many of the same fiscal factors tugging at UConn's bottom line — even pre-virus — are doing the same across the country. Perhaps specific circumstances are different at other outposts. But the bottom lines are the same. As in: There's not enough bottom line.
There has been a suggestion that UConn may eliminate as many as eight varsity sports to accommodate the university's request for athletics to cut 25 percent over the next three years — within a department already running at a deficit.
This just in: Eliminated sports on college campuses are like mob informants. Rarely to do they return from disappearance. And how are we assured that cutting sports isn't an answer tethered more to convenience than prudence?
I get suspicious when I see David Berri, a respected sports economist, tell the Washington Post, "If the program was viable before this took place, then it will be viable after this takes place. So that suggests to me (that) what's going on here is athletic directors are using this as an excuse. I just don't buy the argument that in response to a temporary crisis you need to cut an entire program. If you were interested in cutting things, there are things in football and men's basketball that you could cut."
Hence, attendees at the budget workshop ought to ask athletic director David Benedict for dizzying levels of specifics — if he does indeed suggest cutting some sports. What evidence is there he's looked into every single other option? Then there's this: Mr. Benedict may not be the best person to handle budgets at all, given that he negotiated a contract with Randy Edsall that allows for what si.com's Pat Forde called the "dumbest set of bonuses in athletic history" last week.
Forde: "Benedict has padded retread Edsall's wallet with tens of thousands of dollars for doing useless things like scoring first in a game ($2,000), having a better red zone scoring percentage than his opponent (another two grand) or leading at halftime (also $2k). Edsall has pulled in more than $200,000 in bonuses, according to USA Today, while going a robust 6–30 the past three seasons. He also received a $300,000 retention bonus, as if anyone else on the planet had an interest in hiring him away."
Once again: Are we sure we want Mr. Benedict in charge of money?
Then there's the whole Big East thing. I've spent the last year or so reading and listening to UConn fans bathe in the salvation of their old/new conference. The Big East, to them, is The Answer.
Why do people sneeze more in May than March? The Big East! Why does cream of tartar make egg whites fluffier? The Big East! Why is the best part of waking up Folgers in your cup? The Big East!
So now before the Big East gets to do its thing — reduce travel expenses, create more natural rivalries — we're going to slash eight nonrevenue sports that would have been saving money anyway by not traveling to Tulsa anymore?
Sorry. I don't get this. Maybe down the road — maybe — cutting sports will be necessary. But now? Stop. The sky is falling, sure. But UConn's acting like it is the lone Chicken Little. Suggestion: Maybe all you Goosey Looseys can be a little more loosey goosey?
We know how sports work. Copycats everywhere. One sports league modifies its schedule or path forward, others follow. We've seen some schools (Cincinnati, Bowling Green) regrettably — and perhaps impulsively — cut some sports. I'd hate to see UConn become a trend setter with a more massive chopping block.
Of course, it's also possible Benedict used the media to float the idea of cutting multiple sports to only cut a few. Test the waters, monitor the outrage and act accordingly. Except that right now, one sport is too many.
Colleges offer eclectic menus of sports to make their campuses more attractive to different categories of students. Nonrevenue sports participants often pay part of all their own way, too. So there's that.
I wish these budget meetings are productive. But any sweeping decisions at this point of uncertainty are irresponsible. Maybe those of us without an "MD" at the end of our names can stop trying to predict the future.
Remember Neil Armstrong's words.
This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro
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UConn has competitive advantages – some self-evident, others to be exercised – other Big East schools do not.