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Can Small, Struggling Colleges Survive?

Plus: Softball Preview. Misericordia, UWW to Baseball Final. Requiem for B-SC, Part 2.

JUNE 4, 2024 | written by STEVE ULRICH

The news that you need to know about non-scholarship college athletics and those that love it.
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» 🗓️ What’s Happening Today. The men’s and women’s lacrosse playing rules and officiating committees continue their three-day meetings today. And the monthly DIII webinar will provide an Athletic Training Working Group update at 1:30 p.m. ET.

» What We’re Hearing. "Deciding that a two-hour flight was not enough time together, the (Birmingham-Southern baseball team) wanted to hop on a bus and spend their last road-trip together. So, the coaches and administration got the team a bus for them to spend twelve-hours on the road, taking one last trip together to soak up all the moments they could."

1. Can Small, Struggling Colleges Survive?

Albright College

by Robert Kelchen, Chronicle of Higher Education 

“This is crunch time for the budgets of small private colleges, as leadership begins to get a sense of what fall enrollment will look like following this spring’s FAFSA fiasco. As of mid-May, only 41.5 percent of high-school seniors had completed the FAFSA, compared to 50 percent in 2023. Some colleges won’t survive: Wells College, in New York, Fontbonne University, in Missouri, and Birmingham-Southern College, in Alabama, have already announced their impending closures. More closures are likely to be announced in the coming weeks as optimistic enrollment and fund-raising projections meet the cold reality of empty bank accounts.

The increasing number of college closures has led to a great deal of conversation regarding mergers between colleges as a way to save struggling institutions, and so a new book on the subject, Inside College Mergers: Stories From the Front Lines (the Johns Hopkins University Press), is particularly well-timed. The book, edited by Mark La Branche, chancellor emeritus of the University of Tennessee Southern, covers seven institutions that considered merging with another institution or being acquired, with some being much more successful than others. For struggling, small colleges, a few clear lessons emerge.”

» Why It Matters. “Three key criteria determine a small college’s merger appeal for a partner or an acquiring college or system. The first is having substantial assets that would tempt other institutions, which is often not the case for institutions on the brink of closure. The second criterion is real estate. The third key predictor of a successful merger or acquisition is state support.”

» Reality Check. “Before seeking potential mergers, struggling private colleges tend to pursue two strategies in a last-ditch effort to expand tuition revenue. The first is to try to add undergraduate and graduate programs in high-demand areas such as STEM, health, and business, while simultaneously paring back the liberal arts. The other strategy is expanding athletics programs to recruit students who are seeking to continue playing sports after high school.”

» The Final Word. “There are three actions presidents, their boards, and faculty and staff members should take to ensure that, in the future, their institution will act from the strongest position possible. Small colleges have a long history of being stubborn and resilient, but the financial headwinds are fierce enough that even longtime survivors are at a real risk of closing.”


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2. East Texas Baptist, Belhaven Open Championship Series

It will be East Texas Baptist and Belhaven for the championship of the Division III softball world. The best 2-of-3 series gets underway today at noon ET in Marshall, Texas - home of the Tigers. ETBU (46-2) was ranked second nationally in the final NFCA poll, while the Blazers.

The matchup to watch takes place in the circle. Belhaven’s Kennedy Carruth has been dominant in 2024, registering a 30-5 record with an ERA of 1.21. She has fanned 278 batters in 236.1 innings and has held opposing hitters to a .163 average. The Tigers counter with a pair of undefeated pitchers in Avery Holland (15-0, 1.29) and Hannah Benavides (16-0, 1.41). Neither of them is as overpowering as Carruth, but both have proven to be difficult to hit with both posting opponent batting averages under .200.

ETBU’s Tristen Maddox leads the club with 15 HR and 56 RBI and is one of four Tigers to steal 25 or more bases this season. The Blazers’ Allie Gordon is the team’s top hitter at .398 with 17 round-trippers and 65 runs driven in.


3. Cougars, Warhawks Advance to Final

Max Oliver, Misericordia

Misericordia and Wisconsin-Whitewater entered the day knowing they each needed two wins to stave off elimination and advance to the DIII baseball final.

Mission accomplished. The Cougars ousted defending national champion Lynchburg, 3-2, in the day’s opening game and 5-1 in the winner-take-all contest. In the opener, Misericordia scored runs in the top of the 8th and 9th innings to overcome a 2-1 deficit. In the nightcap, Max Oliver was outstanding on the mound, tossing a complete-game six-hitter.

Whitewater handed Salve Regina its first loss in the bracket as Adam Cootway went 3-for-5 with four RBI in a 7-4 victory. The Warhawks struck for three runs in the last two innings of the bracket final, including a tie-breaking homer from Aaron Holland in the eighth to move on with a 5-2 triumph. The championship series opener has been moved up to tonight at 7 p.m. ET due to possible inclement weather.

4. The Men Who Murdered Birmingham-Southern, Part II

by Conner Hayes, 1819 News

“Birmingham-Southern College (BSC) needed money to fund its expensive capital projects, ornamenting its gated “hilltop in the hood,” as some occasionally called it.

Where was BSC going to come up with the money to augment its campus in order to entice potential students and bolster enrollment? Its campus was already mortgaged; its tuition was pledged to secure its revenue bonds. Except for a line of credit with Regions Bank, the assets in the endowment were the only funds available.

The BSC board decided to gamble the funds in the endowment. This decision, as we all now know, proved to be a most damning one.”

» Situational Awareness. “Many of the capital expenditures BSC made between 2004-2010 turned out to be deceitful detritus. The lake proved to be an egregiously exorbitant mistake. Cost overruns were incurred in building the football stadium. Ironically, Regions Bank never made good on Dowd Ritter’s promise to foot the bill for the football stadium’s construction in exchange for the stadium’s naming rights. The financial crisis of 2008 saw a $25 million dollar loss in the value of the endowment’s assets invested in securities. By 2010, the endowment’s unrestricted funds were nearing depletion. ”

» Of Note. “In 2010, the board approved a budget with an approximately $14 million deficit. Then Regions Bank called, informing the college that it had overdrawn its credit line. The credit line agreement with Regions Bank stipulated that two signatures from BSC officials were needed to draw funds. Without anyone’s consent or knowledge, the CFO had withdrawn funds from the credit line, representing on the green sheets that the drawn debt was revenue in an unethical attempt to make up for the loss of tuition from the excessive athletic discounts. These unscrupulous actions ballooned BSC’s budgeted annual deficit from $14 million to $18 million.”

» Worth Noting. “BSC was able to get “The Distressed Institutions of Higher Education Revolving Loan Program” passed in the Alabama Legislature, providing up to $30 million in loans to financially distressed educational institutions. This lifeboat, however, had a fatal flaw: it left the ultimate decision to grant/deny the loan to the state treasurer. Enter Young Boozer III, a curmudgeonly, callous figure now publicly reviled by many for denying BSC the lifeboat loan, the last man to murder BSC.”

» The Final Word. “The brightest light in Birmingham has been eclipsed out of existence. But we - the proud, pained alumni of this magnificent little college - will not go quietly. We will “rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

5. Lightning Round

» 🗞️ News. “The University of Lynchburg plans to eliminate 12 undergraduate majors, 25 minors and five graduate programs as it restructures around its most popular programs. With those changes, the private Virginia university will cut 40 staff positions in the short term and eliminate 40 faculty positions over the next three years.”

» 🗞️ News. “Brandeis expects to eliminate 60 positions, mostly for staff members and administrators, and may not renew some adjunct faculty members’ contracts because of enrollment declines.”

» 🏈 Football. The New England Patriots signed former Randolph-Macon standout wide receiver David Wallis on Monday.

» 🏌️‍♂️ Golf. Emory’s Jackson Klutznick was named the DIII winner of the Jack Nicklaus Award as the nation’s top collegiate golfer.

6. Comings and Goings

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