Pac-10 Feeling Effects of Bad Economy

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Up and down the Pac-10 conference, athletic departments are feeling the economic pinch.

Washington is cutting its men's and women's swim teams.

Stanford will chop $1.8 million from its athletic department budget this year, and $3.3 million next year, after its endowment lost about a fifth of its value, and UCLA's budget will take a $1.5 to $2 million hit.

Oregon State may cut sports if it can't raise more money from donors. Arizona State's coaches are taking unpaid furloughs.

The struggling economy has been the main topic of conversation, in board rooms and at cocktail receptions, during the annual spring meetings of Pac-10 athletic directors and coaches at a local resort.

"I've been talking about this with my colleagues for the last six months, knowing that the pain was going to be imminent in a lot of ways," UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero said. "I don't believe that most knew what the actual impacts were going to be on their programs until they started to get into the discussions with their peers."

The conference office in Walnut Creek, Calif., is scrimping by reducing staff travel to the NCAA men's basketball tournament and making other budget trims.

"We've had cost-cutting efforts the last 10 years," said commissioner Tom Hansen, who is retiring this summer. "But we've never had the challenges" posed by this economy.

At some schools, there's even talk of scrapping the longtime - and expensive - practice of quartering football teams at a local hotel on the night before home games. Coaches have long insisted they need to sequester their players to avoid "distractions" - an argument that may carry little weight in these times.

"We talk about things like reducing the size of travel squads and giving the student-athletes less-expensive gifts at the championships," Stanford athletic director Bob Bowlsby said. "But at the same time we're talking about all that, we're spending enough on lodging Friday nights before home football games to pay for two to three non-revenue sports a year on a lot of campuses. It's not a small expense item."

Most of the cuts have come because schools are running out of ways to make money. With few new revenue streams on the horizon, athletic directors were interested to hear from a media consultant on Tuesday about the possibility of starting a Pac-10 television network. It could be patterned after the Big Ten Network, which generates millions for that conference's 11 members in exchange for the rights to a broad range of games and programming.

"Just based on what the Big Ten was able to do, establishing a network would appear to be a very lucrative enterprise - if you can get all the pieces put together, and that's very difficult to do," Hansen said.

A Pac-10 network seems far from a sure thing. This much is certain: more teams could be cut if the economy continues to sag and schools can't find new revenue.

Washington last week announced it was cutting men's and women's swimming, a move that could save about $1.2 million a year. The department, which needs to cut a total of $2.8 million from its budget, also expects employee layoffs in the coming weeks.

Washington isn't alone. Oregon State athletic director Bob De Carolis last month warned that some sports might have to go if the school can't increase fundraising.

"The OSU athletic department and the future of Beaver Nation are at a crucial crossroads right now," De Carolis wrote in a report.

Meanwhile, Stanford's athletic endowment dropped to $410 million from $520 million, Bowlsby said.

"And it's all permanent cuts," Bowlsby said. "We laid off 24 people, and we're probably going to lay off a few more. So far, we haven't dropped any sports."

Stanford has one of the nation's biggest athletic departments with 35 varsity sports - 19 for women, 15 for men and one coed squad.

"I really think you're going to see a lot of men's Olympic sports, and probably women's too, go away in the next two or three years," Bowlsby said.

Despite the downturn, one sector of the college sports economy is prospering. Elite football and men's basketball coaches still command top dollar.

Arizona last month gave men's basketball coach Sean Miller a five-year contract that pays him a base salary of $2 million per year plus a $1 million signing bonus.

The Wildcats basketball program generates between $16 and $18 million per year.

"People see this and say, 'Wait a minute, why couldn't you go out and hire a less-experienced, less-expensive coach?"' athletic director Jim Livengood said. "Well, we can't afford to take that chance."