Archive for Friday, April 6, 2001

Swimming endangered in Big 12

April 6, 2001

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Men's swimming teams in the Big 12 Conference have been disappearing faster these days than Texas Tech men's basketball players.

Kansas was the first to pull the plug. Nebraska and Iowa State followed soon thereafter, making me wonder if KU did the Cornhuskers and Cyclones a favor by greasing the skids.

When NU and ISU discontinued men's swimming, all they had to do was point to Kansas and say, "Hey, we aren't the only ones."

Was Kansas a guinea pig in the sudden disappearance of men's swimming in the Big 12 Conference? Were the other two schools waiting to gauge the reaction to KU's decision before they bailed out?

Kansas athletics director Bob Frederick must feel like he has spent most of his time in the kitchen for all the heat he's taken over the swim decision and, to a lesser extent, the lopping of men's tennis as well.

Still, disappointment and disgust are inevitable byproducts of tampering with the status quo, and no doubt Nebraska and Iowa State officials made preliminary plans to prepare for the initial onslaught of outrage.

There are those who suspect the moves by Kansas, Nebraska and Iowa State the Cyclones also dropped baseball are merely the tip of the iceberg. Right now, they are not the tip because the NCAA has minimum requirements. Schools that don't field the required number of intercollegiate sports are dropped to a lower level.

However, what if the NCAA, now run by cost-conscious university presidents, decides to counter the insidious cost crunches by lowering those minimums?

Heck, it could even reach the point where the nation's colleges and universities drop women's sports, too. If a school, by dropping a men's sport, would have more women than men on scholarship, then a women's sport could go because the cutback would not violate Title IX guidelines.

Fact is, doomsayers foresee a time when only football and men's basketball players will be on scholarship, plus the women's sports it would take to provide a matching number of grants. The NCAA will always mandate gender equity.

During the next several years, I expect many schools, particularly those north of the Mason-Dixon line, will drop baseball. Many northern schools have made strong facilities commitments to baseball. Iowa State never did. The Cyclones' baseball facility, for example, was the only one in the Big 12 without lights.

Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri and Kansas State are the only remaining Big 12 northern schools with baseball programs Colorado dropped baseball in the '80s and all have first-class facilities, or will have.

KU's Hoglund Ballpark underwent a $1.8 million refurbishing in 1999, Missouri moved into a new stadium in 2000 and Kansas State's new stadium was dedicated this spring. In Lincoln, city officials are helping Nebraska build a new state-of-the-art stadium that will be shared by the Cornhuskers and a minor-league team.

Next year the Big 12 will have 10 schools with baseball programs six in the south and the four in the north. The north schools want to continue to play the south schools, mainly for recruiting purposes, even though most of the time it's like the Yankees playing the Twins.

Kansas, for example, has a dismal record since the formation of the Big 12 Conference. Counting this year's 2-13 mark, Kansas' record in league games since 1997 is 35-97. Three more losses and KU will be the first Big 12 school to lose 100 league baseball games.

Why don't the four northern schools give up the ghost and play home-and-home series within their division? Not only would they save a bundle on travel expenses, they would have better overall records.

What about the Big 12 postseason baseball tournament? Who needs it? It's really the Texas-Oklahoma Invitational anyway. Sooner or later, the northern four will have to get real. There is no bluffing in baseball.

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