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Take 2: Buffalo axing 4 sports programs has ripple effects

Daily Chronicle sports editor Eddie Carifio and sports reporter Jesse Severson spend their days covering the area’s sports scene. Occasionally, they give their viewpoints. In this installment of their Take 2 column, they talk about Buffalo axing four of its athletic programs, and what it means for Northern Illinois and the state of NCAA Division I athletics as a whole.

Carifio: On Monday, the world of #MACtion was rocked to its core when the University of Buffalo announced it was discontinuing four athletic programs at the end of the season.

Among the cuts – which the school said would save $2 million annually – were the baseball and men’s soccer programs. For those counting, that now is four schools in the MAC with soccer programs, although the conference has five teams, as West Virginia is a soccer-only member.

This raises a lot of big-picture issues, which we’ll get into in a moment. But the most obvious question when I saw this news was how, exactly, can a five-team conference function at the highest level of college sports. This isn’t the Northern Illinois Big 12 East we’re talking about here.

Severson: Well, logistically, the schedule probably would consist of eight games in which you play everybody twice, home-and-away. It certainly is better than the way they do it now, where there’s only five games in the conference schedule.

As extreme as it is having only five teams in your conference – they also could just add some other non-MAC team into the fold, too – there are plenty of men’s soccer conferences that have six or seven teams in it.

The Pac-12, which is a powerhouse conference, only has six teams, along with the Sun Belt and Southern, while the Atlantic Sun, Summit and Missouri Valley only have seven. What else can the MAC do? You can’t just get rid of men’s soccer altogether because some of the teams are currently at the minimum 16 programs to keep D-I status. Geographically, it would be tough to just fold soccer from the MAC and have the programs just get redistributed to other conferences, too.

It seems as though it puts the other men’s soccer teams – Northern Illinois, Western Michigan, Bowling Green and Akron – in a little bit of a pickle.

Carifio: The fact that such small conferences are the norm tells me that there is something fundamentally wrong with D-I athletics. To be a D-I program, you need to have 16 sports. NIU is at the minimum now, and with those cuts, Buffalo dropped to 16.

But what I can’t figure out is why this minimum exists. I understand there should be a minimum, and that makes sense. It seems, however, that the football factories have a distinct advantage here, with their cash cows being able to float the measly $2 million to keep four nonrevenue sports afloat.

As it stands now, D-II programs need to sponsor at least 12 sports. I wonder how dropping the D-I mandate to 14 sports would help the mid-majors – or even the major conference schools that don’t have a license to print money. I mean, there are 351 D-I programs, most of which don’t even have football, let alone big-time, ca-ching football.

Severson: That is not even close to being the worst thing wrong with college athletics, my friend.

However, it has turned into almost a discussion about capitalism. Many of the big programs have so much money because they’re good, and they’re good because they have so much money. It’s a cyclical thing. You can’t really blame the Alabamas and the Ohio States of the world for flexing their monetary muscles, because if I was (a really pretentious) alum of one of those kind of schools, I’d want them to pony up as much money as possible into football, too.

An interesting part about the Buffalo story is it gets three-quarters of its money from student fees and university funds. The students have to pay for it, whether they like it or not. Going to football games in college was an important part of my experience, and if I had a chance to save money but not have those football games, I don’t think I’d agree to that.

Your college didn’t have football, so would you have agreed to pay more and go deeper into student debt for your school to have a football program?

Carifio: Hey, did I say it was the worst thing in college athletics. It’s not even in the top 10. It’s just a symptom of the much larger problems. But if you want to write another 1,000 words on why college athletes should be paid, we can do that next week. Or talk about it on the DC Sports Now Podcast, available for download on iTunes.

I absolutely would have paid some extra cash if that would have ensured a football program. But just because I would make that decision doesn’t mean that the other thousands of students should have to. But the fact of the matter is that money for Buffalo has to come from somewhere, and it isn’t coming from the football program, I’ll tell you that much.

Now, if Buffalo, NIU, North Florida and the roughly 300 D-I programs out there without high-cash, or any, football had two less mouths to feed, that might make things slightly better. And because nothing will be done to completely correct these issues – most notably have the NFL start its own minor league, which never will happen because it has a free one right now – a half, or quarter, or 1 percent measure is better than nothing.

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