South Carolina Gamecock Athletics: It's Time for USC to Add New Varsity Sports - Part 1 (Updated)

Time for the Stik Chix to go varsity at USC? Absolutely!

Over at Dawg Sports, our friend T. Kyle King has recently argued that it is time for the University of Georgia to add men's and women's lacrosse as varsity sports - which are both club-level squads at Athens.

I think Kyle makes a compelling case for Athenian LAX, but his post also forced me to consider an idea that's been rattling around in my head for a few months now - i.e., whether public universities which are (or soon will be) making huge profits from conference television deals should use some of those net proceeds to fund additional varsity sports. In other words, is there a moral obligation for leading universities like South Carolina to divert some of their football millions to fund additional, non-revenue sports?

I think the answer is definitively "yes" but the subject matter is big enough that it warrants being broken down into a two-part series. Thus, today in Part 1, we will examine some of the underlying facts that need to be taken into consideration in this discussion, and make the case for women's gymnastics and women's lacrosse to be added to the roll of USC varsity sports. In a future Part 2, we will consider men's cross-country and men's lacrosse, and debate some of the pros and cons for expanding the USC athletic department at this time - including how some of the arguments made by our hirsute canine friends in reply to Kyle's post apply (or do not apply) to Carolina.

Salient Facts

By way of preface, here are a few facts I think are relevant to the conversation:

  • The University of South Carolina boasts one of the most profitable and most valuable football programs in the nation, and one of the top 20 most profitable athletic departments overall - with a 2011 reported net profit of $3,287,515 (though some have put the net profit as low as $762,726). A full database of South Carolina's 2011 athletic department revenue has been compiled by ESPN.
  • The Southeastern Conference has one of the richest TV deals in college athletics - bringing in roughly $17.1 million per school last year. This distribution amount will certainly go only up when the league re-negotiates with CBS, and will likely reach stratospheric heights when the conference launches a true SEC network in 2014. Accordingly, the member institutions are on solid ground to expect SEC revenue distributions in the near future to surpass the Pac-12's expected $30m-per-school payout. That's a lot of cheddar that's going to be filling our coffers soon.
  • Keep in mind that over the last five years, USC has spent (or committed to spend) a staggering $154 million on facilities (which goes in excess of $200m when deferred maintenance is calculated in) and which is no doubt artificially deflating our athletic department profitability- while simultaneously bringing our facilities into the top echelon of the league. What I'm trying to say here is that completion of the facilities upgrade will mean more discretionary revenue to our bottom line and we'll have very attractive facilities in comparison with some of our rivals.
  • With the hiring of new men's basketball coach Frank Martin, Athletic Director Eric Hyman now has all of the coaches of our most visible programs locked into long-term contracts, including Steve Spurrier, Ray Tanner and Dawn Staley - not to mention all of the other sports, including Mark Berson (men's soccer), McGee Moody (swimming & diving), Curtis Frye (track & field), Beverly Smith (softball), Scott Swanson (volleyball), Shelly Smith (women's soccer), Boo Major (equestrian) and Kalan Anderson-Harris (women's golf) just to name some. The only USC coaching vacancy which still needs to be permanently filled is women's tennis following the death of Arlo Elkins.
  • South Carolina fields eight varsity men's teams: (1) Baseball; (2) Basketball: (3) Football; (4) Golf; (5) Soccer: (6) Swimming & Diving; (7) Tennis; and (8) Track & Field. The SEC sponsors all of these sports except men's soccer (which only USC and UK play as members of Conference USA);
  • South Carolina is the only SEC school not to compete in men's cross-country.
  • For women, South Carolina sponsors nine varsity squads: (1) Basketball; (2) Cross-Country; (3) Equestrian; (4) Golf; (5) Soccer; (6) Swimming & Diving; (7); Tennis; (8) Track & Field; and (9) Volleyball. The SEC sponsors all of these sports as well.
  • Half the SEC offers women's gymnastics (Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, LSU and Missouri). South Carolina is among the seven schools which do not.
  • Title IX compliance is a mind-numbingly complex area which is subject to different interpretations by different White House administrations. After thirty years, there is still a lot of controversy about this federal law. Neverthless - at least for the time-being - it appears that the SEC has adopted a league rule of offering at least two more women's sports than men's squads in order to be minimally compliant with Title IX. There's no way of telling, however, how long this strategem will be legally viable - and, of course, USC is not even compliant with the "two more" rule presently.

Keep reading Part 1 after The Jump where we argue in favor of Women's Gymnastics and Lacrosse

The case for Women's Gymnastics

USC used to sponsor women's gymnastics in the 1970s but it was dropped somewhere along the line - no doubt due to budget shortfalls in our pre-SEC days. Over on Wordpress, a blog called Gamecock Gymnastics makes some really good arguments why women's gymnastics should be re-established at USC:

  • College Gymnasts have a 99% graduation rate and gymnasts consistently rate among the highest GPA’s of ALL students.
  • In the 2008 – 2009 Academic year: 70% of all programs had a team GPA of 3.0 or higher, 23% had a team GPA of 3.4 or higher, and 428 female gymnasts earned Academic All – American with a 3.5 GPA or higher.
  • Proportionally, gymnasts have received the NCAA Women of the Year Award more times than any other a sport.

Would it be difficult to establish a women's gymnastics program? Not really. The NCAA rules provide for twelve undivided scholarships in women's gymnastics, which is one less than a basketball squad and easily within our capabilities. Gymnastics is a winter-spring sport, so in terms of venues we have the Colonial Life Arena [to the extent it is not being used for basketball on any given day], and the old Carolina Coliseum which is not currently being used for varsity USC athletics at all so far as I can tell - not to mention the Practice Facility which is the home of USC volleyball during the fall semester. Locker room and staff facilities could no doubt be squeezed in somewhere in any of these three facilities.

Is there interest? Certainly. The Gamecock Gymnastics folks further point out "that South Carolina Gymnastics has grown to over 1,600 competitive gymnasts hosted by 55 privately owned competitive clubs throughout the state, with NO collegiate gymnastics in South Carolina to support these athletes (emphasis in original)." Moreover, USC recently hosted an gymnastics invitational tournament in 2011 (check out some video highlights here) at the Columbia Convention Center on Lincoln Street - which shows there is already local fan interest. Right now, only UNC and NCSU offer major-college varsity gymnastics between College Park, Maryland and Athens, Georgia - meaning there is a huge regional recruiting area we can tap into. Georgia, Alabama, Florida and Kentucky already sponsor very strong squads and would no doubt welcome a new sister program into the league, and we could also compete against the regional schools in the East Coast Gymnastics League. With the 2012 Summer Olympic Games approaching, a whole new raft of girls are going to be enrolling in gymnastics programs this year.

How much would it cost? I won't lie - it's not exactly cheap. Georgia spent $1,792,805 on gymnastics and was $-668,164 in the red. North Carolina State, by way of another example, spent $1,133,209 on the Pack's gymnastics program and was negative $686,411 when it was all said and done. If USC athletics were underwater overall, it wouldn't make sense. But if the football money pours in like it's projected, it's a shortfall we could absorb - and we'd only further insulate ourselves from Title IX suits by adding another women's sport. . Would we be competitive? Probably not right away. But is that of paramount concern right out of the gate, or are we willing to build a competitive program over the long-haul? South Carolina Athletic Director Eric Hyman has shown patience and fortitude in bringing in program-builders. There's no reason to think he couldn't do so with gymnastics.

Significantly, UGA recently nudged out its three-year head coach Jay Clark - who was a top Gym Dawgs assistant under the legendary Suzanne Yoculan from 1990-1996 and 1998 to 2009. While Clark could not duplicate Yoculan's five consecutive national championships (10 overall), or sustain her enviable level of SEC success (16 conference titles), he was widely credited as a top recruiter and was well-liked in Athens. If we could land a talent like Clark while he's free, we could build instant credibility and quickly assemble a competitive squad in Columbia.

Since the SEC already offers a championship in this sport, why shouldn't Carolina get in on the action? I can't think of a compelling reason why not, other than money or inertia - neither of which is a good enough reason. Gymnastics makes sense now. Let's pull the trigger.

The case for Women's Lacrosse

Back in 2007, USC announced that women's lacrosse would be introduced by 2009 and that a coaching search would take place in '07-'08. We even went so far as to apply for preliminary membership in the American Lacrosse Conference - along with the University of Florida - while we developed the new program. In November, 2008, however, the University announced:

The University of South Carolina's plans to implement an intercollegiate lacrosse program have been temporarily delayed, pending acquisition of field space for this program. This site will be updated with information regarding the program as future plans become available. Please refer to this site periodically for updates

The temporary delay is now three-and-a-half years old (the half is important to the kids, guys), and there have been no further updates. At the time, Vanderbilt was the only SEC school to sponsor women's LAX. Florida, on the other hand, went ahead and instituted its women's program three years ago, and just made the 2012 NCAA's.

To my mind, women's LAX is just as big a no-brainer as gymnastics. First, the sport is exploding in the Palmetto State - as evidenced by this site and news reports like this. At least thirty three South Carolina high schools offer girl's lacrosse - from the lowcountry, to the midlands, to the upstate. USC women have a lacrosse club that competes in the Southeastern Women's Lacrosse League against regional rivals like Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Florida State, Tennessee and Ole Miss to name a few. It's only a matter of time before these rival universities (particularly rich schools like Bama, UT and UGA) transition to varsity girls' lacrosse. We might as well be ahead of the curve rather than behind it.

In addition to the ALC and potential SEC foes, the Atlantic Coast Conference already has six schools sponsoring women's lacrosse (Boston College, Duke, Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia and Virginia Tech), while the Big East has nine women's LAX squads (Cincinnati, Connecticut, Georgetown, Louisville, Loyola, Notre Dame, Rutgers, Syracuse and Villanova). Consequently, there's going to plenty of nearby competition, and there's no reason we should lag behind our old ACC chums in breaking new ground in this fast-growing sport.

While there may be a question of where to house women's lacrosse, the most obvious location is the Graveyard (a.k.a. Stone Stadium). The Graveyard is the home of the Gamecock men's and women's soccer programs in the fall, but is not in use in the spring when women's lacrosse takes place; there is already a women's locker room which could be shared between women's soccer and LAX until lacrosse-only locker rooms are added. With its 4,000 permanent seats in the west stands, and 1000 more on the east side, Stone Stadium is already an established venue which has been improved with a state of the art scoreboard in 2008 and a new drainage system in 2009. Unless I'm missing something, I can't think of a reason why lacrosse couldn't comfortably share the Graveyard with the soccer teams until another site is developed in the future.

Some will argue that a fledgling LAX program will be at a severe disadvantage against more established programs, or that our homegrown talent won't be good enough to compete against their mid-Atlantic and northeastern compeers. I don''t buy it, however. The sport is growing and our region is growing - D-1 caliber athletes are either already out there or will come, In addition to our three big metro areas (Charleston-Mt. Pleasant, Columbia-Lexington and Greenville-Spartanburg) we're close to both Charlotte and Atlanta where the sport is booming, not to mention that we're relatively close by established LAX areas like Richmond, Norfolk, Washington, Baltimore and Philadelphia.

Like gymnastics, LAX will come with a hefty price tag. By way of numbers comparison, Duke spends over $1.2m on women's lacrosse while the University of Florida shelled out $1.4m for its team at last report. Whatever the financial cost, however, like gymnastics, the benefits of bringing more student-athletes to campus (not to mention additional Title IX compliance) is worth the cost. And if we can't afford it just now, we'll be able to very soon when the CBS and SEC-Network revenue arrives. LAX is here to stay. Let's be in the van like we planned to be, rather than bringing up the rear.

***

Update: A commenter over at Gamecock Gymnastics posted this about the history of USC gymnastics which I had missed during the original write-up:

I am a former University of South Carolina Gymnast. I was a local gymnast from Tapio School (at that time named the Gyminee Crickets), who along with Julie Fisher from Charleston Family YMCA walked on to the team in 1977. Carolina had hired Bob White as head coach and graduate assistant Paula Northius from the University of Florida. Julie and I both earned scholarships for the next season. There were 13 of us and our sophomore year our team placed 3rd at the Regional Meet in Louisville, Kentucky. That was the highest place our Carolina had ever achieved. We were on our way!

With the then current administration of the Athletic Department it was an uphill battle. We competed from 1977 – 1980 when Pam Parsons and Jim Carlin disbanded our team over the summer of our Junior year at Carolina. This was done unbeknownst to any of the coaches, athletes or the South Carolina Gymnastics community.

With the University becoming a part of the SEC and gymnastics being a highly ranked sport in the South Eastern Conference I was hoping it was only a matter of time for gymnastics to become a talking point at the University again. There are still several members of that 1977 – 1981 Carolina Gymnastics Team who reside in this area. I retired from teaching in 1995 and have only been watching gymnastics from the sidelines. At this time I feel that South Carolina could field a team of great gymnasts just in our State alone. Would that not be a wonderful comeback for the University and gymnastics in South Carolina.

(Stay on the lookout for Part 2 of this Post where we will discuss new men's sports and dissect pro- and con- arguments). You check check out Part 2 by following this link.

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