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Commentary — Drinking the NIAA’s Kool-Aid
by Dan Eckles - Commentary
Jun 18, 2009 | 939 views | 0 0 comments | 27 27 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Spanish Springs football coach Scott Hare probably took a big sigh of relief when he got the news Tuesday that game limits for Nevada's high school football programs would remain unchanged. He said he was glad level heads prevailed at the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association's Board of Control meeting Tuesday.

The level heads won on the subject of football game limits, but that was about it. NIAA Executive Director Eddie Bonine put together a proposal with a variety of cost-cutting measures that included new lower game limits and a realignment of the state's member schools.

The problem I have is that nearly every proposed cost-cutting measure appears to be flawed. I don't know what Bonine and the NIAA are serving in their Kool-Aid, but everyone seems to be drinking it right up and not asking any questions.

While game limits to prep football were not reduced, almost every other prep sport from basketball and soccer to wrestling and baseball did see the their game limits changed. So, here's the question: Does reducing the number of games teams can play really save any money, and if it does, at what cost to our student athletes?

I don't think there's much, if any, savings there and the athletic directors I've talked to for the most part agree. More importantly, why didn't any of the NIAA's Board of Control members ask Tuesday, how much money the game limits and the other proposed cost-cutting measures will save?

That was one of the first questions coaches asked me in interviews and yet I didn't hear it from a single NIAA board member Tuesday.

No one is asking that question and the NIAA doesn't seem to want to volunteer any figures. I think it's because they don't know. They are more worried about perception. They think they'll take less heat from the outside if they can say athletics is making cuts just like academics.

That's a bunch of garbage. We should be more worried about the reality of positives that high school athletics do for our teens. The NIAA is the organization that governs high school sports in Nevada. The leaders there should be the ultimate torchbearers for our student athletes. They shouldn't be volunteering to make cuts.

I realize that different school districts have different budgets for high school sports, but in Washoe County athletics are less than half a percent of the district's current $456 million-plus budget. At least locally, reducing the number of games student athletes can play won't make a dent toward helping the cuts our state's school superintendents are being forced to make.

The reality is when our superintendents need to make cuts, there's money to be saved in academics, largely salaries. There's not much money to be saved by making athletic cuts. The stipend for high school coaches is less than $3,000 per season. Most are working for cents on the hour when you look at the time they put in year round. Taxpayers are getting plenty of bang for their buck in coaches’ salaries. Can the same be said in teaching and administrative salaries?

High school athletics are for kids. And yet, we have many administrators making decisions who are out of touch with our student athletes. Prep coaches work with our kids on a daily basis. They know more than anyone else what's important to our sport programs and the student athletes. And yet, they are rarely included in key decisions about high school sports.

Why is that? It certainly should not be the case. If we need to make cuts to sporting programs, we need to talk to coaches about what they are willing to give up and what they can live without.

Every football coach I spoke with in the last month would willingly play a couple of day games to save Friday night lighting costs. They all said they'd be willing to pay school police costs and officiating costs for a game to keep from losing a contest.

These are the kinds of ideas the NIAA needed to explore with coaches of all sports rather than slashing their schedules.

In addition, many coaches must now go back to other coaches and break scheduling commitments they made for the 2009-10 school year. Backing out of your word is the kind of thing that hurts relationships, breaks trust and causes future bad blood. You can bet NIAA leaders would be a little more upset if they had to go back and break their word, resulting in their credibility being questioned.

Many of the coaches could have swallowed the game reduction if it would have been implemented for 2010-11 and not immediately. That way coaches would have planned for the change and not been forced to break commitments.

I'm not sure in the big scheme of things a game reduction will save any money. If teams are not playing on a given night, they will likely still practice, so there is only a minute to no infrastructure (lighting, water, etc.) savings. Additionally, two fewer contacts means two fewer games a host school can make money on at the gate.

Yes there is a savings in officials costs and possibly security, but the loss in gate revenue more than offsets that. So ultimately, we're just hurting our student athletes by taking away the competitive outlet.

I know that we are in tough economic times. Sure, some fiscal belt-tightening has to occur. I just believe coaches should have been involved in finding solutions and the alleged cost-cutting measures on the table aren't the answer to any real savings.

Dan Eckles is the Sparks Tribune's sports editor. He can be reached via email at:
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