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Brad Rock: Decades later, equality still a problem for college sports

Published: Thursday, July 17 2014 10:00 p.m. MDT

Athletic Director Norma Carr, who is retiring after 25 years of service, poses for a portrait at the Lifetime Activities Center at Salt Lake Community College, Tuesday, June 17, 2014.

Michelle Tessier, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — There were mountains to climb in Norma Carr’s career as a groundbreaking coach and athletic administrator, plenty of them. She pushed to integrate programs in colleges and high schools in Utah, and was the first female to referee boys basketball. Salt Lake Community College rose to national prominence in several sports under her direction. She facilitated a shining basketball arena that housed an NBA summer league.

But there is no bigger mountain than the one that college sports now face. If you thought securing funding for women’s volleyball was tough in the 1970s, consider this: It’s no longer a matter of appropriation, but of skyrocketing costs in every sport.

Hard to fathom, but travel and facility costs might bring down what sexism couldn’t.

Everyone knows program cuts are likely. At many schools, some already have occurred (wrestling). BYU football coach Bronco Mendenhall says only 25 top-division universities are making money from their sports programs. Football generally pays the bills for all others. Along the way, the term “non-revenue sports” have become “Olympic sports.” Maybe that’s because nearly every sport is a non-revenue sport these days.

But that won’t be Carr’s problem after July 31, when she retires from her position as SLCC’s athletics director.

“I said a long time ago that when sports are no longer leading us to education, and entitlement has entirely taken over, I would get out of the business,” says the former Ute women’s volleyball and softball coach. “That’s not why I’m leaving, but in Division I today, it’s a business. Will students be hired and fired? Are they paying taxes on that? That’s out of our (SLCC’s) range, but it has a trickle-down effect.

“So I fear somewhat for the future of amateur and college athletics because of what is happening. It’s being driven by the Big Five conferences, and I hate to see it happen.”

Carr adamantly favors providing educational expenses, “but I’m not all for giving them everything they want in life, either. You can only spread the dollar so far.”

If anyone knows the challenges and responsibilities of funding, it’s Carr. She coached at Davis High and the University of Utah after a five-sport playing career at BYU. At first, there was the pushback from those who felt women‘s athletics were a frivolous endeavor — or simply an added expense.

Meanwhile, women’s programs were blamed for the demise of sports such as wrestling. “I’m not saying they should have been dropped,” she says, “but let’s look at it since women’s sports came on the scene. Did any of the men’s sports get poorer? Football and basketball continued to escalate and lead the band. Others were not as rich in money, but they never held the line. They just got bigger — more, more, more — and they were driving all sports to be like that.

“It’s a train that cannot be stopped now.”

Derailment could be right around the corner.

Though she’ll remain a part-time adviser to the Scenic West Athletic Conference, Carr says there’s a part of her that’s glad she doesn’t have to worry about “carrying that torch and coming up with magic budgets.”

“I think the (new) people in my shoes are ready for those things, and they’ll be fine, but how much further can this really go? That’s my question. Honestly. How much further can they (universities) go and live with the finances?”

Consequently, she views Utah’s Pac-12 admission with skepticism, noting that with increased money, the talent rises. But it’s all relative. Utah started at a financial disadvantage, earning incremental TV money the first three years. Now it has more money, but less overall than many schools in the conference.

Then there’s the talk of BYU joining the Big 12. But there would be ongoing issues of whether college athletics are truly amateur, and whether other values would be compromised by conference admission.

“BYU would have to answer that same question — is it really a good move? I don’t know. We’ll see how it goes,” Carr says.

She didn’t leave SLCC because of the increasing difficulty of balancing budgets, she says, but “it’s absolutely a part of my thoughts.” Student-athletes who used to be grateful for tuition often expect lavish treatment. Just look at the multimillion-dollar football and basketball centers at Utah for proof.

“I’m all for giving them what they need to go to school, whatever that is … but kids already get whatever they want," she says. "What more? What more? How many pairs of shoes do they need?”

For a handful of schools, the prosperity is staggering, but for most, it’s a daily struggle. It’s hard to miss the irony. Carr began her career fighting for equality. Yet in a money-driven world, in a different setting, college sports are still anything but equal.

Email: rock@desnews.com; Twitter: @therockmonster; Blog: Rockmonster Unplugged

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