This archived article was written by: KC Smurtwaite
From the East Coast Hockey League to CEU sports, the outlook isn’t looking bright.
As we are all coming back from Christmas break, you’ve probably heard the latest news on budget cuts. It’s this: They’re coming. In fact, they are here. Not only are they affecting everything from the business staff to the art department, but collegiate athletics as well.
Each sport team at CEU is up against a dominant force: money. Let’s be honest, it drives everything. Without it, athletics at the collegiate level can come to a standstill. Case almost in point: CEU’s Head Volleyball Coach Brent Martindale said, “My recruiting money is coming out of my pocket.”
Martindale has eight spots open for recruits, but his budgets have been slashed. Martindale said that it’s tough for him to recruit because he really doesn’t know how much money will be available for student-athletes.
The baseball team’s funding for a trip to Arizona in late January was cut to save money. Baseball coach Scott Madsen set to work raising funds, going out to the community to keep the trip alive. This may be the new model for collegiate athletics, unless you are an athlete at Michigan, Notre Dame, Florida or BYU. Want to play? Find a way to pay. Small schools aren’t that far away from bake sales and car washes to fund athletics.How about sports that are in season? The story is about the same.
Basketball Coach Chris Craig said, “It’s the same for all the sports here at CEU. We just have to push through.” And that’s exactly what the Golden Eagles have done – pushing through to a Top-25 national ranking. Athletics at CEU bring in over 100 student-athletes each year. Baseball leads the way averaging about 50 students to the school.
It’s more than just the won-lost record at stake, these athletes are students, too, and CEU’s record in the classroom sparkles. In past seasons, our volleyball team has garnered a Top-Five national ranking for team GPA. CEU coaches are stepping up to find the best student-athletes – the ones that can hit that 12-6 curve ball on a 3-2 count, the ones that can come off the bench, drop a couple of threes and spark a come-from-behind victory, and more importantly, the same student-athletes who pull in the grades to also receive academic scholarships. It’s a good marriage – when it works out. Good athletes, good students. And a little money from both sides helps ease the burden on everyone.
Credit, too, goes to the coaches and athletic director here, who aren’t feeling sorry for themselves. They’re out to make things better in whatever way they can. CEU’s athletic director Dave Paur for example, has chipped in his own money to help recruit and expand the athletics program. And the coaches haven’t lost perspective. Coach Martindale said, “I can’t complain any more than our teachers, who are facing the same situation, but in the classroom.” A classy guy who gets it. Can you imagine the howls if, say, USC’s football budget got cut, or Duke’s basketball program took it in the chops?
Low budgets don’t translate to low performance on the field, the CEU coaches believe. They believe in CEU and they’re working their tails off from the court to the diamond to allow the best student-athletes to display their talents. This is something they love, something they’re committed to. It’s all the more reason for students to go out and show support for their teams. Times are tough. A few more fannies in the stands, a bit more noise, and even the occasional “thanks, coach,” probably goes a little further these days.
And maybe we can feel a little better by realizing that more money doesn’t necessarily turn into more victories. Just ask the New York Yankees, who have had the biggest payroll in pro baseball, and have been shut out of a championship since 2000. This past pro season of baseball brought us the Tampa Bay Rays, the last-place dwellers since their expansion over a decade ago, who worked hard, had a great manager and a good farm system, and it all finally paid off. They had one of the smallest payrolls in the sport, yet ended up in the World Series.
With all their money and a third-place finish to show for it, the Yankees spent over $430 million dollars on three players in the last six weeks, each of who almost earn as much as Tampa Bay’s entire TEAM. The Yankees should have an asterisk put by their win column this season, with the explanation, “Performance tainted by reckless spending.” Their money is the rough equivalent of steroids. Anything to juice up the record. I don’t think the Yankees have gotten the memo about our economy.
Almost every level of pro/college sports is taking a hit. The Arena Football League, which just three seasons ago were listed as one of the most successful organizations in sports, folded and scraped the 2009 season.
I recently attended an Idaho Steelheads ECHL “AA” hockey league game. The game pitted Idaho against their rivals, the Utah Grizzlies. The atmosphere in the pre-game radio show wasn’t about the night’s game; it was more focused on how, within the past month, two franchises in the ECHL folded and ceased operations. Both the Augusta Lynx and Fresno Falcons are done fielding teams. The sad part of all of this is that Fresno had one of the best records in the ECHL and one of the better attendance records for the league. The Fresno Bee reported the team lost over four million dollars in the past four seasons. Where are the Yankees? That’s chump change to them. Which brings us back to things here at CEU. Tough times? Yeah. Getting tougher? Probably. But as the oldest cliche in sports goes, it’s during the tough times that the tough get going. Looks like all of us at CEU are going to have the chance to show how tough we are. In the art department. In business. And on the court and the field. Coach Craig said it best. We’ll just have to push through it.