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Niagara struggles to make do

There's ongoing discussion at Florida State whether the university's best served by bolting the Atlantic Coast Conference for the Big 12. The carrot: There could be an additional $3 million a year available in media rights revenues if the Seminoles make the jump. The deterrent: A perceived undermining of the school's academic reputation and the end of long-standing geographical athletic rivalries.

While Florida State ponders whether $20 million in media rights fees trumps all the negatives, including a hefty exit payment, Niagara goes on trying to feed its athletic programs on tuna casserole. Rights fees alone of $17 million versus $20 million? Excuse Niagara AD Ed McLaughlin if he upchucks in the corner. He's trying to make it work on Monteagle Ridge on some $10 million all told.

Since the AD always takes the heat, McLaughlin's wearing the black hat for Niagara's decision to eliminate its 10-year-old women's hockey program. Two thoughts on that: it wasn't his fault; and if people in Western New York desire certain college athletic programs -- particularly expensive ones -- they best support them.

Sources say Niagara adamantly opposed the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference's move to make women's lacrosse a core sport beginning in 2014. The university, which also added women's track and field, has nothing against lacrosse. It already fields a team. But the expense of expanding the scholarship allotment for both teams and hiring full-time assistant coaches further strains a budget about 1,000 miles south of Florida State's. When the mandate came down Niagara had two choices, either find another conference (not much of an option) or juggle its athletic lineup to offset the increased expense. Women's hockey, a drain on the bottom line, took the hit.

Girls youth hockey coaches, former players and the parents of prospective players are lamenting the loss and labeling it a step backward for the sport. Certainly it's a setback. But there comes a time when a program that incurs heavy expenses has to put something back into the athletic coffers. Donors have to step forward and contribute. Public support must translate into game attendance. NU's hovered around 400, which hardly translates into community buy-in.

Niagara was OK with taking the financial hit and offering a program unique to the area until the lacrosse mandate came down. At that point, what makes good long-term sense for the MAAC put the Purple Eagles in a pickle. Niagara might celebrate the change over the long haul. It's in solid lacrosse recruiting territory. Maybe it can grow successful programs, at which point sustaining them becomes the issue.

Look what happened in women's volleyball. Niagara built a conference power under head coach Susan Clements and then lost her to a school (Wright State) that could afford to pay her more.

For teams residing outside the major TV-driven conferences, either donors emerge to help the programs or there must be an increase in ticket sales for revenue-producing sports. The Florida States have the option of chasing a few more million while the Niagaras strive to make do with what little they have.