Cutting Portland’s golf programs a sad story

Portland sophomore Nick Chianello has a pair of top five finishes this fall and is ranked No. 251 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings.

The news recently that the University of Portland is eliminating its college golf program, put simply, really has me fired up.

Seriously? Drop the golf program and add women’s crew?

Reports indicate this was not about money and will help the university meet Title IX requirements. I believe that to be the truth, even though in these tough economic times, many might think cutting sports is something that everyone should be prepared for. But not college golf. Compared to others on campus it is not an expensive sport to operate, and there would be no shortage of student-athletes that would pay their own way to play Division I golf (and that expense drastically reduces the operating budget of a golf program).

If it was about dollars, Portland would not add crew. This was all about the politics of gender equity.

I ask the question: Was there no way to keep golf and still add a sport – women’s crew – that was manufactured for college athletics to meet those gender equity demands?

Sure, Pilot golf never has done much to gain national recognition in the West Coast Conference. However, did you know that the Portland men’s program has three top-5 finishes in four starts this fall, and is ranked No. 115 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings? Did you also know that the Pilots are ranked better than several teams from power conferences, such as Colorado (118th), Kansas St. (124th), Kentucky (133rd), Wisconsin (163rd) and Michigan State (178th)? (The women’s team is ranked No. 157.)

I understand that crew may be a sport that is more well-known in the City of Roses, but golf is well-known around the world, and if used in the right way can be an asset to an athletic department. Not sure how many current boosters and future donors will venture down to the Willamette River to watch a crew contest, but an event utilizing the golf program at any university usually is a success. Surely, maintaining relationships and building new ones on the links is usually a little easier than in a shell on a river.

It’s just a sad time for college golf. Sixteen men and women who carry a Portland Pilots golf bag will finish out the 2010-11 season, and next fall expect the crew roster to have in the neighborhood of 40-60 females. I wonder how many of those 40-60 will have been recruited by other crew programs to compete at the college level. Or if it is simply a numbers game.

I just don’t get it.

The school said it would honor current scholarships for members of the men’s and women’s golf teams, but I would expect a few to land elsewhere. One of those players who will get picked up is sophomore Nick Chianello, who has a pair of top 5s in four starts and is ranked No. 261 individually.

I truly don’t think this is a sign of what’s to come, where a college golf team gets singled out and cut. Unfortunately, at the University of Portland, that is exactly what happened.

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