Laxheads: We Want Varsity Cocks LAX now!
In this post, we return to the topic of whether the University of South Carolina - and other universities of similar size and profitability - should use some of the millions and millions received from football-television deals to create and fund new, non-revenue varsity sports for women and men.
In South Carolina Gamecock Athletics: It's Time for USC to Add New Varsity Sports - Part 1, we laid out some of the important facts concerning Carolina's current profitability and expected tv earnings in the future, as well as enumerated the varsity sports currently sponsored by South Carolina and the SEC. We also explored how the SEC deals with Title IX compliance, and whether USC was potentially non-compliant. Finally, we set forth specific arguments in favor of establishing both women's gymnastics and women's lacrosse as varsity sports at USC. If you haven't had a chance to read Part 1, I hope you'll take a moment and check it out.
Here in Part 2, we will examine whether it makes sense to also men's cross-country and men's lacrosse to USC's roster of varsity sports, and will discuss some of the general pros and cons of expanding the athletic department.
I had also intended to weigh-in in this post on whether the SEC as a conference should offer to sponsor - and encourage the members to compete in - even more championship sports at the conference level, and what impact that might have on the league's member institutions, but I think in the interest of space I will save that for a future Part 3. So, without further ado, let's dive back in to the topic at hand.
Keep reading after The Jump. Also check out our Fan Poll to see which sports you want to see added at Carolina!
The case for Men's Cross-Country
USC boasts an extensive women's cross-country squad coached by Stan Rosenthal - an eleven year veteran at Carolina, who also coaches both the men's and women's distance runners in spring Track and Field. However, South Carolina is the only SEC school that does not compete in men's cross-country. That leaves Clemson University as the only top-level D1 program in the state for men's x-country.
When I first contemplated this article, I thought the only hold-up against fielding a men's cross-country team was either (a) money or (b) Title IX considerations. But another factor that may come into play is the fact the cross-country is considered an equivalency sport and that its grants-in-aid are shared with the regular Track and Field program; in other words, if a university offers both men's and women's X-Country and Track and Field, both programs share up to 12.69 scholarships (for men) and 20.6 (for women).
A note on "equivalency." Most of you are probably aware that some college programs are "full ride" sports (e.g., football) while other sports split or divide scholarships (e.g., baseball). The nomenclature for a "full ride" sport - i.e., one with full, or undivided, scholarships - is called a "head count" sport; scholarships that can be sub-divided or shared by more than one athlete in a program, on the other hand, are called "equivalency" grants-in-aid. You can read more about the different classification of scholarships here - it also explains why Coach Spurrier and Coach Martin can't split some of their scholarships as much as they might like to (in fact, the advisability of allowing some equivalency scholarships in football and hoops would be worthy of another post - but I digress).
The main reason we might not offer men's x-country is that with the limited number of scholarships available, the athletic department and running coaches have made a conscious decision to put more emphasis on sprinters, middle-distance runners and field athletes The 2012 men's track roster certainly bears out this supposition - of the 41 members on the roster, only two are dedicated long-distance runners, while 15 are field competitors (jumps, high jumps, pole vault, throws). By way of contrast, Clemson has 29 members of men's track (of which only 7 are field specialists) and 13 cross-country men (with cross-over). The University of Florida has 47 men on its spring track roster, of whom 16 compete in the field - similar to USC - but the Gators have nine dedicated distances runners in spring track and 16 cross-country men (also with cross-over). Clearly, different programs place different emphasis on different events.
So what is the case for adding men's cross-country? Because track and x-country are already integrated for all intents-and-purposes for scholarships, facilities and coaching, the main expense would be fall travel for a relatively small team and perhaps a coaching salary increase and/or a new assistant coach slot (if allowed by the rules). Facilities-wise, according to the Cross-Country media guide, USC already has two x-country courses at Ft. Jackson (Owens Field and Hilton Field) with seating for 3,000 and which hosted the '97 and '05 SEC cross-country championships. More to the point, adding men's x-country would mean were competing in all men's sports offered by the SEC and it's probably neutral as far as Title IX is concerned, since no new scholarships would be added. I say it's a win-win.
The case for Men's Lacrosse
As you may have seen, our colleague T. Kyle King at Dawg Sports has argued for creating men's and women's varsity Lacross in Athens on more than one occasion. In Part 1 of this series, we made the case for establishing women's lacrosse as a USC varsity sport. But what about for the men?
There is already a well-established Gamecock club LAX team - with 44 players on its roster and three coaches - and which usually plays games/holds practices at the Blatt Recreational Fields, the Strom Thurmond Fields, or the Greene Street Field. The team competes in the Southeastern Lacrosse Conference against Clemson, eight SEC members (Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Ole Miss, Tennessee and Vanderbilt) and other regional programs like Wake Forest, NC State, Georgia Tech, ECU, etc. The SELC is part of the Men's Collegiate Lacrosse Association (MCLA) that just recently held its 2012 Tournament in Greenville, South Carolina (Ed - good for them and good for Greenville!; incidentally, Colorado State won the championship over Cal-Poly). While USC did not make the MCLA post-season, the Gamecocks LAX club played twelve games and finished with a respectable 6-6 record (dropping to Clemson 8 to 9 and Georgia 7 to 9 [double drat] but beating teams like Miami (FL), NC State, ECU and Wake.
So is it time to step up and make men's lacrosse a varsity sport too? I would answer with a qualified "yes". The first qualification is that it would have to be established simultaneously with (or just behind) women's LAX for Title IX purposes. We simply could not have varsity men's lacrosse without a women's varsity squad. And, I would also argue that men's LAX should follow establishment of women's gymnastics, too.
That being said, the demographic boom in kid's and high school lacrosse makes it too attractive to ignore. As Gene Sapakoff of the Charleston Post & Courier wrote back in 2009, lacrosse is the new soccer; from the 58 parents interested in Mt. Pleasant Recreation Department LAX that Gene wrote about in 2009, it has boomed to almost 500 kids in just three seasons. That sort of interest is being seen all over the country - including Atlanta, Charlotte and Jacksonville just to name a few nearby big cities that are part of the southeastern lacrosse boom. It's already being played in dozens of South Carolina high schools. Furman University in Greenville is establishing a D1 lacrosse squad for 2015 and has already hired a coach. Keep in mind that LAX has lost none of its popularity in its traditional strongholds in the mid-atlantic states and the northeast; the competition for scholarships is fierce nationwide, and this article shows just how competitive it is:
There are now over 60 college lacrosse programs for men and 84 for women at the NCAA DI level alone. To understand just how competitive it is you only have to look at the statistics. There are 2,500 athletes playing college lacrosse and over 560,000 high school lacrosse players all with the dream of playing college lacrosse.
You have to think the first Southeastern Conference school that gets ahead of the demographic curve will be in the driver's seat as other universities consider making the jump from club to varsity lacrosse. True, our SEC compeers have been frustratingly slow to add men's soccer (only USC and UK play it currently, with no plans for the any of the other twelve institutions to add it anytime soon) - despite the fact it was the boom sport of the 1980s and 1990s. You could argue that between Title IX and tight budgets, some schools simply could not afford men's futbol (even though they all play women's soccer) - or didn't think they would be good at it. [And even with that being the case, it's still surprising to me that traditional SEC sports powers like Alabama, Georgia, Florida and Tennesse - and now Texas A&M - don't play men's soccer, while by contrast nine of the 12 current ACC members (Boston College, Clemson, Duke, Maryland, North Carolina, NC State, Virginia, Virginia Tech and Wake Forest) all do].
Nevertheless, Gamecock soccer has benefited from the lack of SEC competition in terms of an open recruiting field. Moreover, since the program was founded in 1978 under Head Coach Mark Berson, the Gamecocks have made 20 NCAA Tournaments, with four Quarterfinal appearances, two Semifinal appearances, and a 1993 National Runner-up finish. For a school like ours often falsely derided for having "no tradition," that is a tradition of excellence that is pretty astounding - and that is with us having to share the same state with our arch-rival Clemson, which has had even more soccer success - with two national championships. Why couldn't we have similar success in men's lacrosse if we were the only SEC member playing it? The answer is there is no reason why we couldn't. Only four ACC universities - Duke, Maryland, Virginia and Virginia Tech - sponsor men's varsity LAX, so in terms of southern schools it is wide-open.
As with our argument for women's varsity lacrosse, it would seem like Stone Stadium (a/k/a The Graveyard) is the logical home for a LAX program. Since soccer is a fall sport, while lacrosse is played in the spring, there would be no obvious scheduling conflicts and the locker rooms could be shared between the two programs until permanent lacrosse facilities are built. In terms of costs, men's varsity lacrosse is limited to 12.6 equivalency scholarships. Because we likely would not have huge start-up costs by using Stone Stadium, the biggest expenses would be scholarships, travel, coaches' salaries and equipment. Consequently, there is no reason why our men's LAX budget wouldn't fall in the range of $900,000 to $1.2m like more established regional programs; e.g., North Carolina spent $980,590 on men's lacrosse (netting -$409,753) while Maryland (the 2011 and 2012 NCAA runner-up) spent $1,110,224 while netting -$541,624. Those numbers are definitely in our price range if the SEC Network revenue projections come through.
Analyzing the Pros and the Cons
This is more of a subjective area, but I wanted to debate whether some of the objections/concerns raised over at Dawg Sports (e.g., by our friend Mr. Sanchez) in response to some of Kyle's posts were applicable to Carolina, as well as examine some USC-centric pros and cons as well.
Too Many Other Priorities to Take Care of First. Over in the Classic City, there are nagging concerns about the direction of the basketball and baseball programs - in terms of both coaching and facilities - which some of the Bulldog faithful want to see addressed first before new programs are added (that's before you even get to the #FireBobo snake pit!). Fortunately, with the Colonial Life Arena and Carolina Stadium we're ahead of our Athenian friends in the facilities arms-race, and with Frank Martin and Ray Tanner - along with Steve Spurrier, Dawn Staley, Mark Berson, and Beverly Smith, just to name a few - we have years of coaching stability to look forward to. Now that the facilities upgrades are coming to an end (at least from a planning standpoint) ... not to mention surviving our date with the NCAA Committee on Infractions for the Whitney Hotel and SAM Foundation matters ... we can turn our attention (and dollars) to new sports.
New Sports Would Require New Facilities. Again, this was an issue raised by some of our Georgia coevals as a rationale to postpone adding LAX programs (though with the Turner Soccer Complex I don't know exactly why there would be a problem finding room for Red and Black lacrosse). As with the priority concerns, however, South Carolina doesn't have this problem; USC has the room for Gamecock LAX at the Graveyard; it already has cross-country courses and coaching in place to easily add men's x-country; and women's gymnastics can go in either the CLA or the old Carolina Coliseum (or even the Practice Facility). We're in great shape in terms of having facilities already in place for new sports.
We'll Only Help Develop In-State Talent Just to See Established Programs Steal Them Away. This was another objection raised by some at Dawg Sports (probably having a lot to do with recently losing out on Atlanta prep b-ball superstar Tony Parker to UCLA, despite the fact that Thomasville superstar Kentavious Caldwell-Pope picked Georgia the year before). I don't see this being a real negative - for Georgia or anyone for that matter. Georgia football and other UGA sports recruit the day-lights out of their in-state talent, plus raid other states. As with USC, basketball is an exception - mostly because UGA hasn't had a great, top-shelf coaching fit in ages - just like USC until we hired Frank Martin earlier this year (and I am not running down Mark Fox or the Dawgs; Fox could really take off next season and he was terrific at Nevada). In any event, the kids are going to go where they're going to go - and since the kids are the ones developing themselves across the Palmetto State in lacrosse, running and gymnastics - we'll never get them to Carolina unless we offer them varsity sports and grants-in-aid. In terms of gymnastics and men's x-country, we're just catching up. But if we beat the Dawgs and the other SEC barnyard critters to the punch in LAX, then we'll be the ones stealing young lacrosse stars from the Peanut State (and the Sunshine State, the Yellowhammer State and the Volunteer State), instead of the other way around. That is music to this Gamecock's ears. Let's be the ones who sit in the poll position.
If It Ain't Broke, Don't Fix It. From the commentariat, Wilmywoodcock raised this bit of sage wisdom in response to Part Uno. As I see it, while I'm a big believer in IIABDFI, I don't consider adding new sports as a "fix". I perceive it more like tricking out a top-flight fishing boat. Football provides the hull and the power. Basketball and Baseball contribute some high-end components like the GPS and the stereo. The non-revenue sports are like extra fit-and-finish, running lights and top-end tackle. If you will allow me to play-out the metaphor, adding new varsity sports is like adding an extra set of outriggers or fancy new cabin items to the USC sports yacht; sure, it's a bit of a luxury, but it makes the whole experience that much more enjoyable. Nothing is fixed per se; it's only enhanced.
New Sports Will Cause Title IX Problems. Frankly, I think USC may have a Title IX problem now, so adding women's gymnastics and women's lacrosse now decreases our potential Title IX liability. Men's cross-country is pretty much a push since x-country scholarships are shared with Track and Field anyhow. Adding a men's lacrosse team might skew the Title IX numbers the wrong way again, but the addition of women's gymnastics (with 12 head count "full ride" schollies) would be the best antidote to Title IX compliance troubles, in my humble opinion.
It Will Cost Too Much Money. I don't buy this argument at all. We're already profitable and our building spree will soon be ending, leaving only the debt-service. True, we're "leveraged" as USC President Dr. Harris Pastides admits. Nevertheless, we had to do the facilities upgrade and we know if we can just somehow get past 212012 then the big moolah is going to be rolling in soon - via the new SEC-on-CBS deal and the SEC Network deal. The Graduation and Academic success rate metrics maintained by the NCAA prove that college athletes are a net boon to a University notwithstanding picayune problems here-and-there. Adding new varsity programs only brings in more great kids to Carolina.
When it's all said and done, we could add gymnastics and men's and women's lacrosse for less than $2.5m a year in shortfall to the athletic budget, which we'll more than make up in additional TV revenue.
Simply put, we can afford it. Therefore, we should do it.
In Part 3, we'll discuss whether the SEC needs to be doing more to sponsor even more sports.
I think USC should add the following varsity sports (note: due to Title IX, there is no option for men's LAX only; in the interest of brevity, we're omitting men's x-country from the poll).
Women's Gymnastics only (23 votes)
Women's Gymnastics and Women's Lacrosse but not Men's Lacrosse (5 votes)
Women's Lacrosse only (2 votes)
Women's Lacrosse and Men's Lacrosse but not Women's Gymnastics (19 votes)
Trifecta Baby: Women's Gymnastics, Women's Lacrosse and Men's Lacrosse (47 votes)
Sorry - now is not the time for new USC sports. (27 votes)
123 total votes