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NCAA, colleges looking to cut costs

| Wednesday, Jan. 14, 2009

OXON HILL, Md. — When members of the NCAA selection committee are setting up those brackets for the men's basketball tournament, they'll be able to plug in a school's name and first-round site into a software program and get a quick idea as to how much it will cost for the school to make the trip.

If a school in the NCAA baseball tournament find itself 375 miles away from its regional site, it can take the bus instead of fly.

And for those athletes who fly to an NCAA championship event, forget about taking as many bags as you want. The limit is now two.

The San Jose State football coach says he'll avoid hotels when possible on recruiting trips. The athletics director at George Washington is wondering whether it's time to turn out the gym lights earlier each night to save on electricity and heating bills.

Like the rest of the country, college sports is in economic meltdown mode, and not even a grand locale for the NCAA's annual convention — along the Potomac River just south of Washington — can mask the belt-tightening that is under way.

"It's going to affect travel," George Washington athletic director Jack Kvancz said. "It's going to affect lodging. It's going to affect all those things that you would obviously think it's going to affect. You're going to see schedules affected."

A good robust debate about the BCS usually steals the show at any NCAA event this time of year, but the economic hard times have officials focused on other matters. Penny-pinching schools arriving for the first full day of activities today will no doubt be interested in attending the seminar entitled "Athletics Travel in Today's Volatile Environment."

The NCAA, unlike some other major sports bodies, hasn't announced any layoffs itself, but the organization is finding other ways to trim the budget.

"Can meetings and the like be conducted by phone• By video conference• By e-mail?" said Greg Shaheen, the NCAA's senior vice president for basketball and business strategies. "Whatever in a way to recognize that these dollars add up."

Several measures were implemented at the start of the 2008-09 academic year. The software program, now in use for all 88 NCAA championships, lets officials know the travel costs for any team assigned to any part of a bracket.

The program is unlikely to make much of a difference for the men's basketball tournament in March because the pod system introduced in 2002 essentially does the same thing. Also, as with all its championships, the NCAA insists it will not alter seeding or create an unfair bracket just to give a school a shorter trip.

"We are clear that we are not making any alterations to the bracketing principle," said Joni Comstock, the NCAA's senior vice president for championships.

A more tangible change has been in the fly-drive threshold.

Division I schools can take the bus to NCAA championship events within 400 miles of campus, up from 350 miles — a policy switch that saved about 19 flights in the fall. Restricting athletes to two bags already has accounted for about $1 million in savings, Comstock said.

Kvancz said his staff at George Washington has held many meetings focused on cost-cutting ideas that could take effect for the 2009-10 school year. Preparing for the worst-case scenario means serious discussions on things such as gym-closing times on campus, but he predicts the biggest pinch nationwide will be felt by low-revenue sports.

"Your Olympic sports are going to have to take a hard look at what they're doing," Kvancz said. "We're have X amount of teams, and they're going to play X amount of games, and that's going to cost X amount of dollars. ... If you have a conference with 16 teams in it, maybe you play 12 a year."

Other schools have taken more drastic measures. Last week, Division II Western Washington announced it was dropping football altogether.

Even big-time sports schools aren't immune. Ohio State football coach Jim Tressel said athletics director Gene Smith talked with the staff in December about upcoming cuts.

"We have to tighten our belts just like everyone else's in the midst of tightening theirs," Tressel said at the American Football Coaches Association in Nashville, Tenn.

San Jose State coach and new AFCA president Dick Tomey already is cutting back.

"It's a matter of not staying all night and trying to get back late or staying at somebody's house when you recruit," Tomey said. "It's just trying to do a lot of the things a lot of us started out in coaching, trying to save money a lot of different ways."

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