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Keith Strudler: The End Of Cincinnati Soccer

There’s good news and bad news for high school seniors recruited to play men’s soccer for the University of Cincinnati next fall. But mainly bad news. The good news is that they don’t have to worry about fighting upperclassmen for a roster spot on next year’s team. The bad news, and it’s much worse, is that no one has to worry about a roster spot on next year’s Cincinnati men’s soccer team. That’s because of as of this week, there won’t be one next year. Or ever. The program was official cut by the University amidst what the athletic director described as “profound challenges and widespread uncertainty,” which is clearly something of an understatement. This is the only sport the University cut, at least so far, and one of the only so far in the country. Old Dominion recently cut its wrestling program, essentially for the same reason, although to be fair, wrestling programs were living day to day for the past decade or so. Then, again, aren’t we all.

These cuts serve as a tangible foreshadowing of what most believe is yet to come, and perhaps soon. University athletic departments are now about to confront a fiscal crisis that might make the rest of campus look like Ft. Knox. And more importantly, unlike most other parts of the university that can shift online, there’s no virtual football games. And least not without an Xbox. Which means that all spring sports have been cancelled, likely all summer training programs will be curtailed, and, as we’re all starting to fear, there may be no college sports in the fall as well. Which would mean no college football in the state of Alabama, no cross county in Oregon, no volleyball in California. Just nothing but empty fields and a bunch of coaches and administrators with very real concerns about being furloughed or laid off. College programs from Ohio State to NAIA schools will all have to find ways to cut expenses. Especially since the vast majority subsidize their athletics programs with general student fees, money that will likely both decrease or be reallocated to more pronounced fiscal emergencies that most every college now faces. And that’s without even getting into dire enrollment projections for fall, prognostics that become even more real when students in southern land grant universities realize there’s no home opener against Tennessee this September.

That, one assumes, is why the Cincinnati men’s soccer team had to be cut, as they say on Chopped. And why many more will follow. To be clear, most schools will be reticent to cut their football programs, at least not those with any kind of national profile. Even if they sit out a year or try to play in spring of 2021, which we hopefully can call the vaccine season, keeping a football team is as much a sign of strength as it is a source of revenue. The same likely goes for basketball, particularly since that’s a rare sport that guarantees tournament money for Division I schools. But for the most part, at schools without a real endowment, everything else is, as they say, on the chopping block.

I won’t get into the argument about college football and whether they’re a victim or the greatest offender. As much as people love to criticize the gross arms race that has plagued the sport, it’s something of a red herring for this particular moment. What is critical is not simply the short term balancing the budget that every AD has to do right now, with lots of human suffering. It’s more how this might forever shape the future of college athletics. In other words, it’s not what gets changed or cancelled right now. It’s more about what might never come back. But isn’t that the case with everything.

There’s a fairly well circulated theory that this crisis isn’t really creating change. It’s simply expediting it. So things in the horizon are suddenly on your windshield. For a long, long time, people around college sports have said it’s not particularly sustainable. There’s too many sports, too much travel, and a system largely built on unpaid labor and a potentially faulty foundation. And whether it’s eventually paying athletes, shortening seasons and practice times, building more regional schedules, or getting rid of sports that simply cost too much, it’s hard to argue that change wasn’t coming. We just weren’t expecting it to come this week, at least not before anyone knew what a coronavirus even was.

We all know now. And we starting to learn how bad things really are. For soccer players at Cincinatti, this week, it’s just got even worse.

Keith Strudler is the director of the School of Communication and Media at Montclair State University. You can follow him on twitter at @KeithStrudler

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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