Real life doesn’t come with a reset button. Real people in real situations can’t just press a finger and, presto, begin anew.
This is not a real situation. It’s my Sunday morning make-believe. For this hypothetical excursion, I’m going to hit control-alt-delete on Fresno State sports and start over from scratch.
My rebooted athletic department – Bulldogs 2.0, let’s call it – does not have to answer to past sins (ahem, Title IX lawsuits) or wealthy donors who like reading their names on plaques. It only has to make sense, congruent with financial realities, gender-equity mandates and geography.
First things first: Fresno State is going to be leaner and meaner in my pretend world than the actual one. Instead of 21 sports, Bulldogs 2.0 will be a lot closer to the Division I minimum of 14.
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Surprised? Shouldn’t be. In this regard it’s the real Fresno State that’s out of whack. Now that wrestling and women’s water polo have come aboard (each begins competition in 2017-18) the Bulldogs sponsor more varsity sports than nine of the Mountain West’s11 full-time members – on an athletic budget that ranks in the lower-middle of the pack.
Wrestling and women’s water polo give the Bulldogs sponsor more varsity sports than nine of the MW’s 11 full-time members – on an athletic budget that ranks in the lower-middle of the pack.
What about the Pacific-12 Conference? By my count, Fresno State has more sports than six members of that conference: Colorado, Washington State, Utah, Arizona, Oregon State and Oregon, whose budget is nearly three times as large.
(Reader to Marek: Hold on a second. You’re telling me Fresno State has more sports than Oregon? How can that be?)
(Marek to reader: Yes, it’s completely nuts. That’s why we’re doing this little exercise.)
No one enjoys cutting sports, but Bulldogs 2.0 will be better off for it. While the savings in coaches’ salaries and scholarships (in the sports I’m axing) would be fairly minimal, my streamlined department puts less strain on support staff who work in academic advising, NCAA compliance, sports medicine and strength and conditioning.
When that happens, each student-athlete receives more individual attention and a better overall experience.
My choices are based on the underlying principle that Fresno State, as a member of the Cal State University system, should be geared toward California kids. I want sports that are played in every high school without having to recruit anywhere else to field successful teams.
Without further adieu, time to unveil Bulldogs 2.0.
Men’s sports (6): football, basketball, baseball, wrestling, golf, cross country – Yes, I did take a hard look at football, the sport that soaks up more resources than any other and whose sheer numbers (more than 100 participants) create gender-equity disparities. Of course, no other sport generates those kinds of revenues and and creates the same level of community engagement – at least when the team is winning. Football stays.
Basketball is a no-brainer, and baseball, though relatively expensive, is a sport where there’s always an abundance of talent, both local and statewide. That same abundance of local talent is why wrestling makes my list. Fresno State should have a wrestling team. Golf and cross country are inexpensive, don’t require large numbers and get me to the NCAA Division I minimum of six men’s sports.
16 sports in columnist Marek Warszawski’s make-believe Bulldogs 2.0
For me, the toughest omission is soccer. I wanted Bulldogs 2.0 to field a men’s soccer team. The participation numbers are simply too large in the leaner department I wish to create. In the end, it came down to soccer or wrestling.
Cutting track and field is tough to swallow, too. I’m well aware of the history, but again we’re hitting reset. Nothing against tennis. It’s just that college tennis teams are populated by foreign-exchange students, and my athletic department is going to have a California slant.
Women’s sports (10): basketball, softball, soccer, volleyball, track and field, swimming and diving, water polo, cross country, tennis, golf – Fresno State already fields all 10 of these sports, with water polo starting up next year. So there’s no need to justify their existence, other than to say we’re definitely going to take advantage of the Aquatics Center. The larger point here is that with two fewer women’s sports, the 10 that remain would be better supported and thus have a better chance to win conference titles – which is the stated goal.
With two fewer women’s sports, the 10 that remain would be better supported and thus have a better chance to win conference titles – which is the stated goal.
The equestrian and lacrosse folks are going to be upset with me, and understandably so. You can definitely make a case that an equestrian team fits a certain segment of the Valley. But then I look at the schedule and wonder if it really makes sense to pay for all those trips to Texas, Oklahoma and Delaware.
I have an admitted soft spot for the lacrosse team (an underdog story since its inception) and acknowledge the sport’s growth on the West Coast. Nonetheless, it’s not as good a fit as those that made the cut.
My 16-sport department would keep the athletic department in fine compliance with Title IX. In fact, the male-female participation and scholarship ratios turned out to be very close to what San Jose State submitted to the U.S. Department of Education in 2014-15.
So, yes, Bulldogs 2.0 would work in the real world and not just this imaginary one.
Unlike me, Fresno State Athletic Director Jim Bartko doesn’t have the luxury of a reset button. He has to find a way to feed 21 mouths and keep multiple saucers spinning at a time when his primary revenue source, football, is underperforming. Poor guy.