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Lawsuits and changes in FBS scholarships could derail America's Olympic future

Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby speaks at the opening of the NCAA college Big 12 Conference football media days in  Dallas, Monday, July 21, 2014
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Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby speaks at the opening of the NCAA college Big 12 Conference football media days in Dallas, Monday, July 21, 2014. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

For more than a year, coaches, athletic directors and conference commissioners have been championing cost-of-attendance scholarships — especially in football — as a way to provide student athletes with funds that more accurately reflect that actual cost of attending college.

But very few have talked about the repercussions of that move as well as the lawsuits against the NCAA that are requesting players get paid for their images.

Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby noted that while cost-of-attendance scholarships might be good for some student-athletes, universities are going to have to find millions of dollars to fund these scholarships and that might mean the end of some Olympic sports.

“The scholarship is going to change and I think that's great,” Bowlsby said during his opening address at Big 12 media days on Monday. “I think there are ways that it costs more than room, board, books, tuition, and fees to go to school. But even in an environment where we have some additional revenue coming in from television resources, primarily, it is going to be very difficult for many institutions to fund that. It is not hundreds of thousands of dollars a year; it's millions of dollars a year.

“And I think over a period of time what we'll find is that instead of keeping a tennis program, they're going to do the things that it takes to keep the football and men's and women's basketball programs strong.”

Most of the cuts would be to male Olympic sports so programs could stay compliant with Title IX. Since football eats up so many scholarships, schools have to keep a scholarship balance with women’s sports, which often puts men's non-revenue sports in the crosshairs.

“Title IX doesn't go away because we're going to do something higher benefited for student athletes in a couple of sports,” Bowlsby said. “We have both a legal obligation and a moral obligation to do for female student athletes and male Olympic sport student athletes just exactly what we do for football and basketball student athletes.

“And so therefore the cost is higher, and you begin to look and say do we want to have 25 sports and fund this broad array of benefits, or would we be better off to fund a broader array and sponsor only 20 sports.”

In the past 10 years or so, several universities have done away with men’s Olympic sports such as swimming, gymnastics, tennis, wrestling and even baseball.

According to the NCAA, 146 Division I teams support collegiate wrestling in 1981-82. In 2010-11, that number dropped to 80 programs. Similarly, only 16 Division I men’s gymnastics programs remain, which is down 73 percent from 1981-82.

The problem is these sports cost more to maintain than they bring in. In the past, that deficit could be bridged with revenue from football and basketball, but with that extra revenue now being shelled out to fund more inclusive scholarships, that reserve is dwindling.

Bowlsby noted that revenues from NCAA television packages mostly are going up about 2½ percent a year while expenses are going up about 4½ percent a year.

Bowlsby, who is a member of the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) board, said losing Olympic sports is a troubling trend and that he’s had ongoing conversations with USOC members on how to stem the tide. In the end, the loss of these sports means a dwindling Olympic pool from which to draw. Unlike other countries, the USOC doesn’t receive government funding to help train its athletes. Instead, it has traditionally looked to colleges and universities as training grounds for America’s best.

During the 2012 London Olympics, 86.2 percent of the 530 American athletes in the games came from Division I schools. If Olympic sports continue to go away at the collegiate level, so will any competitive advantage in the world’s games.

“There is change afoot and some of it is going to be unhappy change because I think it will ultimately reduce the number of opportunities for young people to go to college and participate in sports,” Bowlsby said. “It's a somewhat zero sum game. There's only so much money out there. I don't think that coaches and athletic directors are likely going to take pay cuts.”

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Graham Watson is the editor of Dr. Saturday on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email her at dr.saturday@ymail.com or follow her on Twitter!

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