Apr 20, 2010 3:13:15 PM
Despite an unforgiving economy pressuring schools to trim their athletics budgets, data from 2008-09 suggest NCAA institutions are offering participation opportunities to more student-athletes than ever before.
According to the NCAA's latest Sports Sponsorship and Participation Rates Report, more than 421,000 young men and women participated on more than 17,800 teams last year. The total number of student-athletes represents about a 2 percent rise from the year before and maintains an approximate 2 percent growth in the last five years and in six of the last seven.
Much of the growth came in women's sports, which saw an increase of 90 teams. Combined with an increase of 42 men's teams, the number of teams in sports for which the NCAA sponsors a championship exceeded the previous all-time high from 2007-08.
While more of the overall team total comes from women's teams (53 percent), males account for more of the participants (57.2 percent). Almost 65,000 of the men's participant total are football players.
The number of women's teams has increased each year for the past 26 years. While men's teams have decreased in three of the last 10 years, the number has increased steadily since 2003-04 and is at a record high in 2008-09 (8,344 teams).
In 2008-09, just as in the past two years, the average NCAA member institution sponsored about 17 teams, eight for men and nine for women. The trend of sponsoring more teams for women than for men began in 1997-98. Compared to 1981-82, the average NCAA school in 2008-09 sponsored about two more women's teams and one fewer men's team.
Teams added and dropped
In 2008-09, there were 157 men's teams and 197 women's teams added at NCAA member institutions. Since 1988-89, there have been 2,947 men's teams and 4,282 women's teams added, with each specific academic year having more women's teams added than men's.
Conversely, 63 men's and 57 women's teams were dropped at NCAA schools last year. Since 1988-89, there have been 2,605 men's teams and 1,748 women's teams dropped, with each specific academic year having more men's teams dropped than women's.
The most frequently added women's sport was golf with 36 new teams, followed by lacrosse, tennis and indoor track and field. The women's sport that has been added the most since 1988-89 is soccer with 617 new programs.
On the men's side, the most frequently added sports were indoor track and field and tennis with 19 new programs each, followed by golf and cross country. The men's sport that has been added the most since 1988-89 is indoor track and field with 377 new teams.
Ironically, the most frequently dropped sports last year were the same as the most popular add-ons, with 11 women's golf programs and 19 men's tennis teams being eliminated.
The net result was an increase of 94 men's and 140 women's teams. (Sports in the teams added and dropped category include non-championship sports, such as emerging sports for women, which is why the net increase here differs from the increases noted earlier for championship sports.)
Since 1988-89, there has been a net gain of 328 men's and 2,482 women's teams. There was a net loss of men's teams in nine of the last 21 years, while in all but one year (1988-89) there was a net gain of women's teams.
Most of the net losses in men's sports have come in Division I. In fact, since 1988-89, there has been a net loss of 287 men's teams in Division I, compared to a net gain of 714 women's teams during the same period.
The women's sport with the greatest net gain last year was golf with 25 teams. Other women's sports with notable net gains in 2008-09 include lacrosse, cross country and track and field. Historically, the women's sport with the greatest net gain since 1988-89 is soccer with 571 teams.
Since 1988-89, the women's sport with the greatest net loss of teams is gymnastics (-39).
Soccer provided the largest net gain for men's sports with 13 teams. Historically, the men's sports with the greatest net gains since 1988-89 are indoor track and field (104), cross country (87), and lacrosse (83). Men's sports with the greatest net losses since 1988-89 are wrestling (-106), tennis (-72), rifle (-46), gymnastics (-36), fencing (-25), water polo (-21), skiing (-20), and swimming and diving (-18).