The USOPC established a Think Tank last year to identifying solutions to help sustain Olympic and Paralympic sports at university level ©Getty Images

Sport sustainability, sport structure and vertical partnerships have been outlined as three phase one priorities by a United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC) College Sports Sustainability Think Tank.

The concepts were developed through three working groups held during the Autumn in 2020.

The working groups were chaired by Greg Byrne, University of Alabama director of athletics, Chris Plonsky, University of Texas chief of staff and executive senior associate athletics director, and Rob Mullens, University of Oregon athletic director.

The USOPC claim the concepts highlight potential partnerships across the collegiate space and Olympic and Paralympic movements, as well as recognising that increased alignment can result in operational efficiencies, untapped revenues and a unified vision of the sport pathway for athletes.

Sport sustainability was identified as a concept, with Olympic and Paralympic sports viewed as requiring more flexibility to manage sport-specific expenses and generate revenue in a cost-effective manner.

Modifications of current policies are considered to have the potential to reduce operating costs, including recruiting expense reductions and streamlined regionalised competition.

Open access to new resources, including increased collaboration with youth sport programmes and national team partnerships, was highlighted as part of the concept.

The working group also highlighted sport structure, determining that the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) legacy of broad-based sport sponsorship at the Division I level should be upheld.

The working groups claimed preserving this structure may benefit from collaborative sport management with national governing bodies through shared costs, policy alignment and collective promotion of the sport pathway.

Partnerships between with national governing bodies and the NCAA’s sport sponsorship umbrella are viewed as having the potential to extend flexible membership requirements, agile season operations and sport-specific rules customisation.

It is claimed that this would help declining Olympic and Paralympic sports manage within the realities of each sport ecosystem.

As part of the vertical partnerships concept, the working groups determined that many Olympic and Paralympic sports rights are bundled with American football and basketball agreements, which may limit exposure and commercial opportunities.

The think tank suggested there could be great opportunities for the NCAA, schools and national governing bodies to partner on sport-specific competitions to help increase awareness, exposure and commercial opportunities within each sport.

Piloting partnerships around the NCAA Championships and or national governing body events were cited as potential opportunities, as well as expanding to include content sharing plan and school recognition programmes.

"We are grateful for the hard work, creativity and dedication of the USOPC College Sports Sustainability Think Tank members during this turbulent time in our history," said Sarah Hirshland, USOPC chief executive and member of the USOPC Think Tank.

"We are eager to roll up our sleeves and get to work on transitioning these concepts from ideas into actionable recommendations later this spring."

The USOPC announced the establishment of the think tank last year, with Olympians, Paralympians, coaches and administrators joining the joint venture with the USOPC Collegiate Advisory Council.

Basketball and American football are the dominant sports in the NCAA system and earn most of the marketing revenue ©Getty Images
Basketball and American football are the dominant sports in the NCAA system and earn most of the marketing revenue ©Getty Images

The Think Tank is aimed at identifying solutions to help sustain Olympic and Paralympic programme opportunities within college sports.

Focus areas for the working groups were partnerships, sport economics and regulations.

"The ideas we’re exploring certainly push the envelope in thinking, but that’s exactly what’s needed as we face unprecedented times," said Scott Stricklin, USOPC Think Tank chair and University of Florida athletic director.

"Developing these concepts required collaboration across schools, conferences, athletes, coaches, NGBs, the NCAA and the USOPC, which speaks to the deep conviction we share to protect broad-based varsity sports."

The USOPC revealed that the Think Tank will convene project teams and industry experts to further explore the concepts in the coming months

Recommendations will be developed by the full USOPC Think Tank and shared with the USOPC Collegiate Advisory Council for review.

Final recommendations will then be shared with the NCAA, college leaders and USOPC board.