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Editorial    Monday, September 24, 2001         
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UVM must pay to play

The old coach's adage, "When the going gets tough, the tough get going," applies to University of Vermont athletic officials for their recent decision to cut five sports programs.

The teams lost out because no game is more brutal than the economics of NCAA Division I athletics. If UVM is going to run with the big dogs -- and Michigan is on this season's men's basketball schedule -- it has to score at the turnstiles and on the national sports pages as well as on the playing field.

Eliminating men's and women's gymnastics, men's track and volleyball teams will save a relatively paltry $100,000 while ending the varsity careers of a number of outstanding student-athletes. The action, however, fits UVM's strategy to strengthen hockey, basketball, skiing and soccer -- sports that offer UVM the best potential return in championships, ticket sales or publicity.

At most Division I schools, sports are as central to the college experience as freshman composition. Winning teams bring media attention to their universities, loosen alumni wallets and lure future undergraduates yearning to scream, "We're No. 1." With hundreds of schools chasing the same trophies, the competition to hire the best coaches and build the finest facilities is intense.

No one wants UVM to become Big Jock U, but right now the Catamounts struggle on a very uneven field. In 1999, for example, UVM spent $5.1 million on 27 sports. The University of Maine spread $9 million over 19 teams and the University of New Hampshire allocated $11.6 million to 24 sports.

UVM has hired its first full-time fund-raiser for athletics. The university is targeting sports donors in its upcoming $250 million capital campaign. Specific institutional goals -- win-loss record, place in conference -- have been set for top teams. It all reflects a major change for athletics at UVM.

UVM should honor the tradition of the student-athlete who plays for the love of the game and the glory of the alma mater. But there is nothing noble about recruiting a talented young athlete and not providing the training and facilities so she can reach her potential. And it is not good sportsmanship to send woefully overmatched teams into NCAA competition. Such fates have befallen some UVM athletes.

By making tough decisions, UVM officials are following the first rule of NCAA sports: If you are going to play, you have to pay.

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