The University of Richmond men's cross country team finished second at the rainy Atlantic 10 championship this weekend in Philadelphia. But the torrential rain was not the only obstacle the Spiders had to overcome.
The men's track and field and cross country teams are the only non-scholarship varsity teams at Richmond.
Entering this year's championship weekend, Richmond cross country was ranked fifth, although every other team in the conference offered scholarships to their runners. Because of Title IX restrictions, the athletic department is unable to offer any scholarship money to men's track and field and cross country.
David Walsh, deputy athletic director, said this has been the case since he arrived in 2000.
"We have a finite budget, and the scholarship allocations are in line right now," he said. "Adding scholarships is a costly investment, and we are maxed out right now."
Title IX dictates that the total amount of athletic aid must be proportionate to the ratio of female to male athletes.
"When you have to take into account the football team, they just can't be offset by a women's team," men's cross country coach Steve Taylor said. "That leaves fewer scholarships for another men's team."
The biggest consequence of not having scholarships is recruitment. Senior Jon Molz, who finished third overall this weekend, admitted that he "ticked his mom off" by deciding to come to Richmond because he was offered money from two other schools.
"It's often the parent's choice as well," Molz said. "If I had gotten along with the coach at a school where I was offered money, I would have gone without a doubt."
But Taylor said he has learned the university's strongest selling points from years of recruiting, which include the availability of financial aid packages and highly esteemed academics.
"We are looking for the right match for the school," he said. "Academics with athletic talent, instead of the other way around."
This approach to recruiting has proved to be successful, as Richmond men's cross country had the third-highest collegiate GPA in the nation in 2003 and finished a program-best second place this weekend.
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"It is a formula we've had to find — a way to win by putting together the pieces," Taylor said. "Even with the restraints, we are still getting into a competitive position."
Taylor believed that if the team was given just three scholarships it would reach the NCAA tournament on a regular basis.
"It would be tremendous what we could accomplish," he said. "I hope that there will be a day when that is realized, that we could compete on a national level. I will always hold out on that hope."
Sophomore Andrew Benford, who finished sixth this weekend, said the team's success was a testament to the dedication of the runners.
"We could all quit —\0xAD its just as easy because we will not lose any money," he said. "But year after year the guys come back because we are dedicated and enjoying what we are doing."
Molz agreed that Richmond's dedication was a special case.
"We chose a sport that is not the most enjoyable," he said. "It is definitely hard to find people who dedicate as much as the guys at Richmond do without the incentives of a financial award."
Taylor said he thought cross country gives a lot of exposure to the university because the team never has an off-season. The runners start practicing before classes start during the summer, and the team ends its season well after classes have ended during the spring.
"It is a tremendous sacrifice to be a distance runner," he said. "These men are strong students, a great match for what the university is promoting."
Despite the benefits for Richmond and the team's recent success, Walsh said it was not in the plans to offer cross country scholarships in the future.
"We have discussions with the coaches on an ongoing basis," he said. "They are very competitive and would like to see some scholarships. But our revenue and expenses are maxed out, and we have an appropriate mix of men and women right now."
Molz said the lack of scholarships created a lot of challenges for the team because it is difficult to attract the best runners.
"We have to rely on the average runners and hope that they compete," he said. "Our competitors are being paid to run while we have to pay to run"
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