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Dave Distel

Maybe the Aztecs Should Have Dropped Football, Not Track

June 25, 1989|Dave Distel

News Item: San Diego State has indefinitely suspended its track and field program, according to an announcement by Director of Athletics Fred Miller.

Would someone do me a favor and test the drinking water in the San Diego State athletic department? Check it for hallucinogens. Check it for 100-proof alcohol. Check it for anything that would either deaden and/or warp the mind.

Indefinitely suspend track and field?

Taking track and field out of an athletic program is like taking country music out of Nashville or the Hall of Fame out of Cooperstown or the beach out of Waikiki. Track and field is athletics. Track and field was the very foundation for the Olympic movement.

To get indefinitely suspended, these SDSU track people must have been involved in dormitory shootings or gang rapes or cocaine possession, a la Oklahoma football. Maybe the SDSU track and field program is a hideout for Soviet spies or Libyan terrorists.

Wait a minute.

Now I hear that SDSU's track and field athletes and coaches are clean as a whistle. Most of the athletes actually graduate, which is a rare phenomenon these days.

In truth, the track and field program is a victim of the fact that Fred Miller had to find a way to cut $225,000 from the 1989-90 budget. He must have been running down the athletic ledger looking for $225,000 until he found it and then scanned back across the page and said: "Aha, looks like track and field will get the indefinite kick in the pants."

It matters little that track and field, aside from its status internationally, also happens to be, historically, one of the most successful sports at SDSU. It has produced 23 Olympians, three of them champions, and 20 NCAA champions. SDSU has done quite well in what, in my opinion, is one of the four major sports at American universities, the others obviously being football, basketball and baseball.

And yet track and field gets the ax at San Diego State, a university paying an ex-football coach more than $60,000 to coach golf. Note also that this university replaced the aforementioned football coach with an associate athletic director who had not been a head football coach in 11 years, and then at a community college.

Further, the dismissal of track and field eliminated one women's team and left the women's program one short of the seven needed to compete on the NCAA's Division I level. To rectify this, women's soccer was added.

Now I have nothing against women's soccer, but this is a rather haphazard way to elevate it to varsity status.

"Excuse me," I can hear an administrator gasping, "but we're a women's sport short."

And so women's soccer was thrown into the breach.

Is this any way to run a Division I athletic department? More and more, SDSU is becoming a most marginal Division I program.

The problem, of course, is that the supposed income-generating sports, football and men's basketball, generate losses at SDSU. The red ink from football in particular is enough to drown the entire athletic department.

It almost gets to the point where you wonder if maybe football isn't the sport that should get the ax. Woeful attendance at football games is basically what has caused the $557,000 budget shortfall.

Could this be an indication that football is actually the sport that not enough people care about?

Alas, there is little likelihood that football would ever be dropped. The multitudes, many of whom probably haven't seen a game since Don Coryell left, would decry the discontinuation of a program so steeped in tradition.

The truth is, the track and field program has consistently been more successful than either football or basketball. It just is not an income-generating sport, not that football or basketball have been either.

Ironically, this blow comes at a time when San Diego as a community is approaching its zenith in terms of interest in track and field. The Olympic Training Center, scheduled for completion in mid-1991, will attract the best track and field performers in the nation. What's more, San Diego's weather and SDSU's upgraded track and field facilities attract national teams from all over the world.

Indeed, San Diego was on the verge of taking over from Eugene, Ore., as the nation's hotbed of track and field.

And now this great university that could be the fulcrum of such national and international development has gone and dumped on its own track and field program.

Ah, but there is hope. Fred Miller has told track and field that the program can continue if the coaches and athletes raise the funds to keep it going.

Now, let someone tell me the football team is helping out with a bake sale or a car wash. That team, after all, is the reason the SDSU athletic department always falls on the negative side in terms of both finances and public relations.

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