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Making Waves

September 2, 2003

Arthur Nead
Michael DeMocker

The Tulane Board's review of the athletics department prompted nationwide interest in the fate of the university's longstanding athletics programs. From the first reports in mid-April until the Tulane Board's final press conference on June 10 and beyond, an outpouring of analysis, speculation and expressions of concern were carried by local, regional and national media.

tulsum03_waves_1Following the board's announcement of its decision, Tulane President Scott Cowen's calls for changes in the structure of intercollegiate athletics, especially the Bowl Championship Series, have been followed by media outlets around the country.

The Times-Picayune of New Orleans reported on April 22 that an ad hoc committee of the Tulane Board was reviewing the athletics department's yearly budget deficit and was considering several options, including moving the program from the NCAA's Division I-A to Division III.

Other papers in the region, including The Advocate in Baton Rouge, La., soon carried similar articles. Meanwhile, Tulane's student newspaper, Hullabaloo (April 25), blasted what it saw as the "secrecy" of the review process. By this time, the Times-Picayune was running at least one and often several articles each day about the review and the controversy swirling around it. The Times-Picayune reported on April 26 that student-athletes set up a table in Tulane's quadrangle to collect signatures and drum up support.

It reported on May 6 that athletics director Rick Dickson launched a "Think Green" fundraising drive, appealing to fans and alumni to buy season tickets and donate to the athletics endowment fund (see "Tulanians Think Green"). A May 11 article, "Green Wave, Red Ink," analyzed complex competitive and financial pressures on university athletics programs. Sports media around the country reported major shakeups in intercollegiate athletics alliances, and Tulane, in the midst of a stormy review, was cited as a possible first casualty of conference politics.

The Birmingham Post-Herald inquired: "As the quest for money becomes the driving force in college athletics, some universities might be forced to ask a difficult question: Can they afford to stay in the game?" On the days leading up to the Tulane Board's announcement, the Times-Picayune, USA Today and CBS reported on the impending decision. The next morning the board presented its decision at a campus press conference. Livefeed crews from local television stations captured the moment.

Outlets including ESPN and Sports carried the news, and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and were among the many media outlets carrying an Associated Press article, "Tulane Decides to Keep Football Program," which said that in addition to keeping Division I-A, "the board passed a resolution stating Tulane will attempt to change 'the culture' of NCAA programs to bring them back in line with the original purpose of athletics as 'a recreational pursuit.'"

The New York Times reported the decision on June 11, focusing on Cowen's determination to challenge inequities in intercollegiate athletics. An article by Cowen, "How Division I-A Is Selling Its Athletes Short," appeared on June 15 in the "Backtalk" column of the New York Times. "Tulane came close to being the first victim of the inequities and restrictions inherent in the NCAA system and the Bowl Championship Series alliance," wrote Cowen. "And though we voted to continue our Division I-A programs, we believe other universities may not be able to do the same. It is not a matter of if programs will begin to fall because of the misdirected climate of college athletics; it is a matter of when."

Cowen has since appeared on an ESPN talk show, "Rome Is Burning," published an editorial in the NCAA News, and has an article scheduled for the college football preview issue of The Sporting News. For the complete text and updated listing of articles, click on the "News Coverage" link at

Arthur Nead is an editor in the Tulane publications office; e-mail him at


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