Cost-saving moves in the Pac-10 is not an easy task
Oregon AD Pat Kilkenny has been put in charge of a committee to study cost-containment for the conference
Seattle Times colleges reporter
Say this for the fathers of the Pac-10: When they put together a committee to study cost-containment, they didn't lose their sense of humor when they picked the chairman.
He is Pat Kilkenny, athletic director at Oregon. So the face of scrimping and saving comes from the school that brought us billboards in Times Square, Internet connections in football players' cubicles and a training room that would shame anything west of the Mayo Clinic.
Indeed, Kilkenny acknowledged once that he's worth more than $100 million. So maybe there's a method to his chairmanship. Clearly, the man knows how to turn a buck.
That, and saving one, were the prevailing undercurrents at last week's Pac-10 meetings in Phoenix, where administrators fretted and commiserated over the thunderhead cloud of the times: How to survive in an economic climate squeezing college athletic departments like no other in perhaps decades.
"It's kind of the approach where we're looking at everything, big and small," says Jim Muldoon, the longtime Pac-10 associate commissioner.
At the league level, the campaign essentially will be two-pronged: There are measures the Pac-10 can take unilaterally that won't hurt its standing nationally. Meanwhile, it will also formulate possible legislation to be introduced at the next NCAA convention in January for a bigger audience.
Both those fronts will be explored at the Pac-10 summer meetings June 4-7 in San Francisco.
Several athletic departments, including Washington and Washington State, need to find ways within a month to reconcile projected deficits of $1.5 to $2 million for 2009-10.
Already, the Huskies have endured the most public, and painful, kind of cut, lopping its men's and women's swim programs. But that only reduced the deficit from $2.8 million to $1.6 million.
Scott Woodward, the UW athletic director, realizes the analogy is strained, but he recalls the Meryl Streep film "Sophie's Choice," in which a World War II concentration-camp prisoner had to choose which one of her children to sacrifice to Nazi captors.
"It's all very troubling and all very emotional and all very difficult to go through," said Woodward, just back from the Pac-10 meetings. "In order not to eviscerate the whole enterprise, we had to make a tough decision to eliminate a program."
Woodward doesn't see any more sports getting the guillotine, but makes no promises going forward if the slump worsens.
"John Maynard Keynes [the late economist] said it best," Woodward said. "When the facts change, my mind changes."
At Washington State, Jim Sterk is looking at the same dilemma, but given that the WSU budget is about half the Huskies' (the UW's is $65 million) and the deficit is about the same, the problem is even more magnified. WSU will do without $350,000 it has been getting from the general school budget, and must find a way to square up a million or so increase in athletic scholarships caused by a 14 percent tuition hike.
Sterk doesn't envision lopping sports; the Cougars, with a leaner offering of 10 women's and seven men's sports, have fewer options there.
One godsend is the Notre Dame football game Oct. 31 in San Antonio, which will pay WSU $900,000, plus perhaps half a million more in national-TV revenue.
In the longer term, all sorts of measures are being considered by the Pac-10. Football travel-squad limits, now at 64, probably will be trimmed, and it's hard to argue with that. So, too, school travel-party limits to bowl games. Since many of those are rewarding teams that lost five or six games, why not?
Media guides may go the way of one-platoon football. They'd be online only, and if a newspaper wanted one, it could download and print.
Nationally, the Pac-10 might propose things like a ban on teams' foreign travel, and on the practice of teams staying in hotels at home the night before games. That was fine in prosperous times, but is the Washington-Oregon rivalry going to suffer because they didn't sequester themselves on game's eve?
Tough issues, tough answers. At Oregon, Kilkenny at least has Phil Knight. Washington and WSU are having to be more imaginative.
Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company
About Bud Withers
Bud Withers gives his take on college sports, with the latest from the Huskies, Cougs, and the rest of the Pac-10.
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