“Just a couple of days ago the Kangaroos were saddled with a five-game losing streak,” reads the hopeful lead in the Kansas City Star about the men’s basketball team at UMKC. “Now they are riding a two-game winning streak, just their second of the the season.”
There is no faulting the sportswriter here for sticking to sports–an increasingly rare virtue–but for the editorialists there is a larger story buried in that headline.
An opening might read something like this: “In the face of severe budget cuts, UMKC persists in wasting some $12 million a year on a misbegotten Division I athletic program whose flagship team celebrates a two game-win streak against a school no one ever heard of.”
UMKC and other state universities are paying the price for the grossly mishandled student protests at the University of Missouri, Columbia, campus in the fall of 2015. Not only did MU brass alienate potential students with their fecklessness, but they also alienated citizens and their state legislators.
As a result, at the beginning of this school year, UMKC had to freeze hiring and look for places to pare down its budget by $24 million over the next two years.
For a variety of reasons, however, none of them sensible, the budget cutters have left the sacred kangaroo of Division I sports largely untouched.
Some 27 years ago one could at least see the logic in going Division I. Other urban universities in mid-sized cities like Cincinnati, Syracuse, and even Wichita had winning teams that unified the student body and whose very names brought glory to the city that hosted them.
Going Division I, however, came at a price. To host a Division I basketball program a university also had to host 13 other sports Division I programs. More problematic still, despite the fact that women are less inclined to pursue sports at a college level, at least seven of those teams had to be for women.
UMKC currently supports 16 Division I teams, seven for men, nine for women, in a program that drains roughly $12 million from UMKC’s core budget. Worse, to fill several of these rosters, coaches feel compelled to recruit from overseas.
If the teams won or if the students cared, there might be some justification for the Division I program, but for the most part the teams don’t win, and the students don’t care.
The centerpiece of the program, men’s basketball, has never taken off. In 27 years, the team has not once even made the 64-plus field of NCAA tournament, and it is not about to happen in a season where two straight wins are cause for a campus celebration.