As Bob Bowlsby Can Tell You, Things Are Tough All Over

Bob Bowlsby, Stanford athletic director

Bob Bowlsby, Stanford athletic director


Stanford University’s athletic department budget is over $75 million. The school has 35 varsity teams, and they perform quite well.

Last year Stanford won the United States Sports Academy Directors’ Cup for the 14th-straight year. That honor goes to a school from each NCAA division (and the NAIA) to recognize the most successful overall athletics programs, with points based on a school’s success in NCAA championship events.

But Bob Bowlsby, who left the job as Iowa’s athletics director to take a similar post at Iowa, is finding money isn’t exactly growing on the Stanford Tree.

Stanford Tree in happier times

Stanford Tree in happier times

Because of the bad economy, Bowlsby and his school have cut 21 positions in the athletics department.

That’s 13 percent of the department’s 163 administrative and service positions. As someone who works at Gazette Communications, that hits pretty close to home this week. Heck, it hits close to home just because it’s in this country in this sad, disturbing time.

Here’s a passage from the San Francisco Chronicle’s story on the cuts:

Part of Stanford’s problem has been the football program’s inability to fill Stanford Stadium.

“If we could consistently draw bigger crowds, we could solve a lot of our problems,” Bowlsby said. Coach Jim Harbaugh “has done a great job, we had a great recruiting class, and we think we’ll be a fun team to watch. But you can’t bank on those revenues, especially in a soft economy.”

The following isn’t anywhere near as serious a problem for Bowlsby, but it’s not good. He is catching fire for selling student-section seats for the Stanford men’s basketballl team’s home games this week against UCLA and USC.

Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury-News wrote these passages in his blog at

Part of the problem is that the people responsible for this decision, athletic director Bob Bowlsby and (senior associate athletic director) Hutchins, aren’t Stanford alums, are relative newcomers to The Farm and have little appreciation for what the Sixth Man Club has meant to Cardinal basketball since its creation in 1993-94.

The athletic department does a poor job reaching out to students and puts a mediocre product on the floor, and after less than one season of lagging turnout decides a tradition that began in 15 years ago — and is so central to the success of Stanford basketball — is worth selling off.

A thousand miles from the situation, I sure don’t know if Bowlsby and his associate are tone-deaf to Stanford tradition or if their economic situation is suddenly forcing their hands.

I always side with the students over the suits and the fat cats, though, so I declare this a bonehead move.

But none of Stanford’s sports have been cut, yet. Which is more than you can say for Northern Iowa unless a king-sized fundraising effort prevails in a tough time to raise funds.

If Stanford is struggling, what’s going to happen to your favorite athletic department?

Stanford has the third largest endowment of any university in the country. As of last fall, Stanford’s  endowment was $17.2 billion. However, that has decreased by $4 billion to $5 billion, and all campus units are cutting their budgets by 15 percent.

 When athletic directors’ salaries are cut, then you know the bottom has fallen out.


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