College Sports Sustainability Think Tank
The United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee College Sports Sustainability Think Tank is a first-of-its-kind effort to address the loss of collegiate Olympic and Paralympic sport opportunities in the wake of COVID-19. As an early result of the pandemic, more than 100 Division I programs were dropped, exposing the need for creative and collaborative management within the Olympic and Paralympic sport ecosystem. Led by University of Florida Athletic Director Scott Stricklin and USOPC CEO Sarah Hirshland, this project included Division I athletics leaders, Team USA athletes and coaches, National Governing Body and USOPC executives, NCAA leaders and sport industry experts. The yearlong effort included large-group sessions and project-area working groups; it culminated in September 2021, following the Olympic and Paralympic Games in Tokyo.
The collegiate connection into Team USA is deep. At the Tokyo Olympic Games, more than 75% of the 2020 U.S. Olympic Team competed across 171 schools, and more than 50% of the 2020 U.S. Paralympic Team competed across 76 schools. On the winter side, more than one-third of the 2018 U.S. Olympic Team competed across 48 schools, while 25% of the 2018 U.S. Paralympic Team competed across 14 schools.
Preserving the opportunity for athletes to grow and thrive through collegiate Olympic and Paralympic sport programming will benefit not just Team USA, but athletes around the world. International student-athletes also thrive in our country’s athletic system, as it provides a worldwide training ground for personal and athletic development. In Tokyo, more than 640 college athletes represented 117 countries in the 2020 Olympic Games.
Following robust discussion in the fall of 2020, the USOPC Think Tank established four working groups to further ideate around concepts that encourage sustainable, broad-based varsity programming. The four concepts - sport sustainability, sport structure, vertical partnerships and Paralympic inclusion - served as the framework for actionable recommendations that were finalized in the fall of 2021.
Sport-Specific Sustainability Efforts
Roundtable discussions occurred in 2020 and 2021 to vet sport-specific sustainability concepts for field hockey, men’s gymnastics, track and field, men’s volleyball and wrestling. These efforts included collaboration across NGB/USOPC staff, coaches associations, national team athletes, and collegiate leaders. Discussions from each group helped inform the USOPC Think Tank’s seven recommendations and included a review of additional sport-specific priorities; discussion summaries are located below.
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