By Phillip Whitten
April 5. MOST of the recent news on the future of Olympic sports at the collegiate level – particularly men’s Olympic sports – has been dismal. Nearly 600 men’s collegiate Division I teams in wrestling, track and field, gymnastics, baseball, tennis and, of course, swimming have been axed in the last 15 years, victims of spiraling salaries for football and basketball coaches, other budgetary pressures and shortfalls, and the exigencies of Title IX. Perhaps most devastating has been the nearly total lack of creative thinking and imaginative solutions on the part of athletic directors and other university officials.
That’s why it is refreshing to learn of one newly appointed athletic director whose intention it is to re-establish men’s swimming – as well as baseball and tennis – at his university.
The guy in the white hat is Jamie Pollard, who last fall left the University of Wisconsin, where he was an associate A.D., to take the reins at Iowa State University. Pollard was highly regarded in Madison and since arriving in Ames, he has received rave reviews.
Two months ago Pollard, who was an age group swimmer and a collegiate runner, announced his intention to reinstate men’s swimming, tennis and baseball at Iowa State. All three programs were cut in 2001 due to budgetary pressures. The story was first reported in theAmes (IA) Tribune by staff writer Dick Kelly. Recently I spoke with Steve Malchow (no relation to Tom), ISU’s new Senior Associate Athletic Director for Communications about the announcement.
Pollard is realistic. “It’s not going to happen tomorrow,” Malchow said. “It could be three, five or even eight years down the road. But it’s going to happen.”
A big part of the problem is money. “Right now we have the twelfth largest budget in the Big 12 conference,” Malchow explained, with just a touch of irony. “It’s one-third the size of Texas’ budget. As we get sound financially, we will restore the three sports.”
“Jamie doesn’t just want to re-establish men’s swimming and the other two sports,” Malchow explained, “he wants the teams to be competitive. That means scholarships and a brand new facility that will attract top swimmers to ISU.
What motivates Pollard, Malchow said, is the US Sports Academy Directors’ Cup (formerly the Sears Directors’ Cup), which is an all-sports ranking of Division I collegiate athletic programs. “It’s the best way to measure total sports success and it encourages a broad-based program,” he added.
Last year Stanford, a perennial winner, won the Cup with 1,238.75 points. Texas was second with 1,074 points and UCLA third with 1,067. ISU placed 60th with 285.75 points.
Under the Directors’ Cup system, colleges and universities are awarded points based upon how they finish in 10 men’s and 10 women’s sports. Currently, Iowa State – one of the few schools with more male than female students – has 11 women’s and seven men’s teams.
“Jamie would like us to be a top-20 program some day,” Malchow said, “but we’re not even close right now. We don’t even have 10 men’s sports right now. If we don't have the same length stick that everybody else has, we have no chance."
Eric Hansen, head swim coach at the University of Wisconsin, a 1988 graduate of Iowa State and the last Cyclone to win an NCAA swimming title, knows Pollard well. Currently the head US men’s coach at the Short Course World Championships in Shanghai, Hansen described Pollard as “a brilliant, driven guy. It’s exciting to have someone like Jamie, with his vision and ability to get things done, in that position.
“He will build a great program and he knows the value of Olympic sports.
“If Jamie says he’s going to build a new facility, then you can be sure he’s going to do it. And, of course, it’s what we need,” Hansen added.
“This is really significant. It puts pressure on other schools in the Big 12 – Nebraska, Kansas, Kansas State and Oklahoma – to bring back their men’s swim teams as well.”