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Volume 68, Issue 100, Thursday, February 20, 2003


Throw a 'Hail Mary'

Athletics can't take more debt, mistakes

By Ernest Salas
The Daily Cougar

Athletics Director Dave Maggard went before the Student Fees Advisory Committee on Friday and stated flat-out that the department needs to correct its past mistakes. Far removed from the cloak-and-dagger department of administrations past, Maggardis term has been marked by a willingness to accept responsibility and at least try to fix the problem.

But howis it gotten so bad?

Redshirt freshman quarterback Barrick Nealy begins a touchdown run Aug. 30 against the Rice Owls. The football and menis basketball programs have been down for a while, contributing to some of the Athletics Departmentis financial woes.

Mauro Alvarez/The Daily Cougar

Title IX

Dubbed Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, Title IX prohibits sex discrimination at state-funded institutions or institutions that receive federal funds -- not only in education, but in athletics.

There was a time that UH was home to menis swimming and tennis teams. Enter Title IX and the University was forced to scale back to give more female student athletes the opportunity to compete.

One glance at the average attendance at womenis basketball, volleyball, soccer or tennis games lets people know just how much those programs are supported. Aside from family members and friends, few, if any, students take in a Lady Cougars game.

But itis not the womenis fault. They compete just as hard as the men, and in some cases -- considering they have to prove themselves in an arena that expects athletic excellence only from its male athletes -- female student athletes have to work twice as hard.

Womenis athletic programs lose money not because of Title IX, but because of the emphasis placed on football and menis basketball. And since those two programs suffer from poor attendance, why would those students who donit bother to take advantage of their free tickets turn out in droves to see a volleyball game?

Abandon athletics

With little support for the teams, not just from the students but from the so-called die-hard alumni who scream bloody murder when head coaches make the slightest mistake, there is no point in continuing to fund a department that does nothing but drain the Universityis resources, right?

Itis a simple enough solution. Tired of the $10.8 million deficit? Get rid of the whole damn thing and get the University focused on whatis important: education and research. Thatis a good theory, but not one thatis likely to work at UH.

This isnit Rice, and while our achievements in physics and research are known outside of I-45, they probably arenit well-known to the average person on the street. Ask any Houstonian who Hakeem Olajuwon is and theyill probably know the answer. Ask about Paul Chu and theyire likely to shrug their shoulders.

College athletics is the greatest tool this University has to attract Houstonians. Physics and creative writing will attract those who wouldive come to UH regardless of the athletics program. The Cougars attract the fringe high school seniors, those who arenit sure about continuing their education.

Itis not supposed to be this way.

In a perfect world, the football team has long since awakened and begun making annual trips to the Liberty Bowl -- or better. Itis been raking in millions of dollars. In a perfect world the menis basketball team has gotten back to the NCAA Tournament and pocketed bushels of cash for television appearances.

But since the two teams that should be the departmentis flagship teams have been down for so long, the deficit does nothing but get bigger and bigger. Since there are no bowl games or NCAA Tournament appearances, there are no millions of dollars helping to offset losses for other programs. Athletics cannot support itself.

No easy solutions

Thereis no getting around the fact the departmentis in dire straits. Itis operated with a budget deficit thatis been climbing for the past five years. Maggard hasnit sugarcoated it, either.

The financial situation has been a very severe one," he told The Daily Cougar during the winter break. "From how itis developed over the last three to five years, we were really at rock bottom."

Clearly, the department needs more students to come out to the games, but itis needed that for years. What it needs the most of all is support from those behind-the-scenes boosters. Those who turned away in droves during the Alvin Brooks, Kim Helton and Dana Dimel eras need to come back to Robertson Stadium.

One can only hope that Maggard sticks around long enough to see his dream of making the department more fiscally sound become a reality.

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