Should Colleges Consider Dropping Women’s BB?

There have long been cries from various corners of the sports world that women’s basketball, despite heavy promotion and prominent media coverage, just doesn’t justify the hype because the quality of play is poor in comparison to the men’s game.

Long Beach State women's hoops

 (Her shot’s not the problem. It’s the empty seats in the background.)

Now, a columnist named Bob Keisser in Long Beach, CA, is suggesting that colleges may be better off if they got rid of women’s basketball altogether. But his argument has nothing to do with the game itself. He says that women’s hoops is the biggest financial drain on university athletic departments, and that schools would do better if they brought in programs in other women’s sports which don’t cost nearly as much.

Is he nuts? Judge for yourself after the jump.

Keisser, of the LONG BEACH PRESS-TELEGRAM, is clearly looking at this in how it pertains to California’s university system. He says that his suggestion isn’t all that wacky, considering that nine schools in the state have dropped football since his hometown Long Beach State 49ers did the same thing in 1991.

So, how do you justify dropping women’s basketball without looking heartless, or even sexist?

Look at the bottom line, Keisser says:

My point is that women’s basketball is a complete money-losing proposition for virtually any university. If it made financial sense for universities without the resources of USC or UCLA to drop football, shouldn’t a sport that blows millions annually from coast to coast be judged in the same way?

Attendance is modest. For every Connecticut and Tennessee that has found an audience, there’s 75 schools that can’t average 1,000 fans per game.

Ticket revenue thus is strictly petty cash. The Indianapolis Star did an award-winning study a few years ago and reported the ticket revenue for each public school. Some rounded-off samples for California schools in 2005: $136,000 at UCSB, $29,000 at Cal, $11,000 for Long Beach State and $648 at Fullerton. That’s not a typo.

Despite the low revenue produced by all but the top schools, women’s basketball coaches are usually among the highest paid at a university. That’s just one factor that leads to large deficits in athletic budgets due to the sport:

Numbers for 2007 from the Equity in Athletics Date Analysis, which is conducted by the Department of Education, showed most schools running Lehman Brothers-like deficits in women’s basketball.

For example, USC was minus $1.8 million, UCLA minus $1.7, Stanford minus $1.5 million, and Fresno minus $1 million. Some other schools in the red were Cal ($901,000), Cal Poly SLO ($801,000), San Diego State ($487,000), Bakersfield ($270,000) and Long Beach State ($159,000).

Keisser argues (rightly) that Title IX was enacted because football programs hand out so many free rides that there was a large inequity in the number of men and women receiving athletic scholarships. But he also points out that nobody was outraged when some schools jettisoned those 50-85 scholarships by dropping football.

As for how to make up the scholarships lost?

But a school theoretically could drop women’s basketball and add women’s crew and lacrosse teams and meet the gender equity requirements, and not be incurring the kind of expenses women’s basketball does in salaries and operating budget.

It’s an interesting proposal, but one that certainly won’t go anywhere. As Keisser says in the article, the NCAA would not take kindly to a school dropping women’s hoops.

He doesn’t, however, mention the fact that there are other sports out there that drain money, and many men’s teams don’t do all that well at the gate, especially outside of the major BCS conferences. And yes, while football is a cash cow at most large schools, there are a lot of Division I schools in conferences like the MAC and Sun Belt pouring tons of money into football programs that draw small crowds and win few games. So it might be a bit unfair to point the finger squarely at women’s basketball.