The North Idaho College athletic department picked the wrong time and place to grab for a gold ring.
At a time when prudent public purse holders are squeezing budgets, the department’s request for an 8.9 percent increase doesn’t sit well - particularly in North Idaho, a hotbed of anti-tax activity, and among college faculty who covet extra money for their own programs.
As a result of public opposition to the NIC athletic budget, trustees wisely postponed adoption of the $18.7 million college budget. And they’ve scheduled an Aug. 12 workshop to discuss the role of athletics on a community college campus.
Trustees, with the help of community members, must decide if extracurricular sports at NIC are important to the college’s learning experience and the region. And if the two marquee sports - wrestling and men’s basketball - are worth the cost of recruiting players from all over the hemisphere and the travel expense of belonging to the Scenic West Athletic Conference.
College campuses throughout the nation are ‘rassling with similar sports issues. Boosters say good sports programs are important for college pride, recognition and community entertainment. Opponents say the money wasted subsidizing athletes, some of whom have proven to be undesirable citizens, would be better spent on academics.
The scrutiny on the NIC campus comes at a time when the sports program is vulnerable.
Threat of lawsuit from a disgruntled parent hangs over the NIC wrestling team, winner of several national junior college championships. The suit, filed by a father who felt his son was cheated out of a chance to wrestle at nationals, ended a rocky year in which a troublesome star athlete was expelled after a team member died from consuming too much alcohol.
NIC athletics also is susceptible to criticism that out-of-state athletes fill rosters on the wrestling, men’s basketball and baseball teams. Without such recruits, NIC couldn’t compete for national wrestling titles or in the tough Scenic West Athletic Conference. Critics, of course, would ask: Should they?
The answer isn’t simple.
Some out-of-state athletes are problem children of other college programs who come to Coeur d’Alene trying to straighten out their lives. Others are looking for quality competition before transferring to a four-year college. Many recruits are minority members who bring welcome diversity to the North Idaho campus.
The high-priced wrestling and basketball teams provide quality entertainment during the Inland Northwest’s long winters. But strangely the athletic department hasn’t built a broad-based following in the Coeur d’Alene community. Games and matches are poorly attended unless they’re important ones with a powerful rival.
That failure to connect with the community may prove costly for the athletic department now.
, DataTimes The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = D.F. Oliveria/For the editorial board