Aug. 13, 2004
"The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph, but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered, but to have fought well." -- Olympic Creed There is clear irony for many of the American athletes who will be participating in the Olympic Games in Athens, Greece. Collegiate athletes, who make up the bulk of the American participants in Olympic sports such as wrestling, track and field, gymnastics, swimming, and volleyball, will take the world stage in Athens. But those same athletes -- both men and women -- find themselves fighting for the very existence of their sports at home. Almost on a weekly basis, we read or hear of programs being eliminated on our college campuses, victims of budgets that need to be balanced. Referred to as "Olympic" or "non-revenue" sports, these are programs that are often the first to go when difficult budget decisions must be made on campus. The Olympics present an important opportunity to underscore the vital role that American colleges and universities play in providing the facilities, training, coaching, competition and values so necessary to the development of highly skilled athletes in these sports. Indeed, in the past, on average approximately four of every five U.S. Olympic team members have been involved in intercollegiate athletes, in particular at NCAA institutions. The same ratio exists for those who are summoned from our college campuses to serve as Olympic coaches. For those of us in the NCAA, it is gratifying to know that when our American athletes march into the Olympic Stadium, our member institutions and coaches have helped athletes realize their dreams of performing on the world's grandest stage in sports. But for the future of such American teams, too many colleges and universities are dropping Olympic sports altogether. From 1988 to 2003, 272 men's and women's non-revenue or Olympic sports programs have been eliminated at NCAA member institutions, including nearly 21 percent of all women's gymnastics and nearly 30 percent of all men's wrestling teams. That is a trend that must be reversed. I do not deny the budget realities facing athletic departments. However, I firmly believe it is shortsighted to eliminate sports and reduce opportunities for a broad and diverse spectrum of student-athletes. Intercollegiate athletics administrators should not make the mistake of equating the lack of revenues produced or the cost of conducting these sports with the value they bring. Contrary to what some believe, Title IX should not be a scapegoat for this situation. The reduction of Olympic sports is not the result of Title IX mandates. I have argued strongly that women deserve every opportunity to succeed in intercollegiate athletics, just as men do. A commitment to maintaining and growing Olympic sports in intercollegiate athletics is an investment in the hopes and dreams of young people and an investment in the educational mission of the institution. If the return on that investment is measured only in dollars, we risk losing sight of the true merits of athletics participation. It is something to consider as we watch and cheer on our American athletes in Athens. They represent the best of what intercollegiate athletics and America are all about. Myles Brand is NCAA president.