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Athletics suffer too in tough economy

"Leading economic indicators," that old catch-all phrase used by newscasters and commentators for years indicate that things aren't getting any better, and fast. So how is the current economic doldrums affecting the world of sports?

I'm reading where various groups of college athletic directors are getting together to brainstorm ideas on how to manage this current money mess. While most big programs in the SEC and ACC are not yet in a crisis mode, they don't want to get that way. What a novel idea, trying to plan ahead in case the money runs out.

The money running out on college and pro athletics may not happen as evidenced by record television contracts and salaries but playing the "what if" game surely won't hurt. It appears that one of the biggest steps that colleges are already taking to conserve is with travel. Many schools will bus their teams to road games this football season rather than flying.

The NCAA for years has introduced various regulations in the name of cost cutting, even when money was growing on trees. In reality many of those measures were a ruse. The truth is saving money was an excuse to level the playing field between the haves and the have-nots and to satisfy Title IX requirements.

What about our high schools? There can be no doubt that this economic situation is going to slap our schools squarely in the face this school year. When Joe The Plumber knocks off work on a Friday this fall he may decide he can't afford the local high school game, or at the very least, leave the wife and kids at home.

My feeling is that lower gate receipts are inevitable. Not only will the gate receipts be affected, but so will concession and souvenir sales. This will filter down to the cheerleaders, band and other various school clubs and groups. Nobody will be immune to the cash crunch.

Looking at the big picture, education funding in Georgia has become more and more the responsibility of the local taxpayers. Big checks are no longer flowing freely from Atlanta like they once did. School systems in poor, rural areas that lack a lot of retail and service type jobs are hurting the most. Industry and a strong tax base are almost nonexistent throughout much of Georgia.

This too will ultimately affect money spent on athletics. School systems will no longer be able to handsomely supplement the best coach that money can buy. Coaching staffs will be shrinking in size. The money will be worse needed elsewhere

And what will this mean? It could very well mean losing more games because teams are not as well coached as they once were. And what does losing mean? Probably even worse than no ticket money in fans' pockets, a losing team hammers gate receipts. It could be a double whammy.

Things, they are a changing. School administrators, coaches, fans and players better be ready for it. Less money means more empty seats, which will again mean less money and possibly more losses on the field. I think they call that a vicious cycle. I call it real vicious.

Web posted on Thursday, July 23, 2009

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