Former Wildcat Caitlin Lowe takes a throw at first base during drills this week in preparation for the World Cup of Softball, which begins today. Sue Ogrocki / The Associated Press

OKLAHOMA CITY - With the world championships approaching, Jay Miller gathered his U.S. national softball team for two days of practice and then headed off to another continent to play.

Gone are the days of a long, national tour to prepare for the competition. With the sport being dropped from the Olympics for at least the rest of the decade, there's a new reality for USA Softball.

Losing hundreds of thousands of dollars in support from the U.S. Olympic Committee means a limited travel schedule, less time to practice and no stipends that would allow players to give up everyday jobs.

"The biggest thing it hits is funding for the players," said Miller, in his second year as the U.S. head coach. "In the past, our Olympic years especially, kids could make a pretty good living playing for the national team, where now they can't."

The Americans arrived in Oklahoma City this week for the fifth annual World Cup of Softball, and the first since the IOC finalized its decision to keep softball off the program for the 2016 Olympics. It also won't be played in London in 2012.

Only three countries - Canada, Japan and the United States - will be represented at this year's World Cup, the fewest yet, as other nations wouldn't pay for their teams to make the trip.

The U.S. team used to receive big payouts from the USOC each year, in part because it was a regular favorite to win gold.

Not anymore.

"We're at zero," said Ron Radigonda, the executive director of the Amateur Softball Association that runs USA Softball. "We basically were not granted any funding from the USOC, so we went to zero. In non-Olympic years, we were at mid-six figures, and in Olympic years we were much greater than that."

Radigonda said he has started talking to other countries about the possibility of creating a world softball tour, which he believes may be marketable to sponsors seeking exposure in other countries and potentially attractive to television.

The bottom line, though, is that the sport is most viable on an international level if it is part of the Olympics.

"You can't underscore enough how important that Olympic platform is because people understand that," Radigonda said. "The softball fans, they'll find us. I don't care if we're playing at 2 in the morning, they're going to figure out where we're at, and they'll watch the game.

"What you need to have, though, is that Olympic program. It brings it just to the next level."


• What: World Cup of Softball: Canada vs. USA

• When: 5 p.m.