The Board of Trustees' recent decision to eliminate the men's track and field and soccer programs from the Division I athletic offerings has sent the university community into an emotional whirlwind. As a former track and field and cross country student-athlete, I was not immune to feelings of anger and resentment, but the outpouring of support from across the nation has quickly turned those emotions into action.
I watched the live online feed of the Save Our Sports forum and was hoping for a humane and civil discourse on the future of the university's athletics program and a rationale as to how this decision meets those goals. Unfortunately, the emotional wave of that moment left those issues for another day. As such, I would like to take this space to address specific issues that relate to this decision's impact on the men's cross country team, which is inseparable from track and field to anyone who understands our sport.
Two years ago, the men's cross country team placed 24th in the nation. The university has decided to eliminate the track and field team under the assumption that since only six athletes were affected, there would be minimal disruption because most student-athletes on the track and field team still compete in cross country. We have evidence that calls into question that assumption.
First, there are 30 Division I schools that offer a cross country program, but not track and field. These schools typically finish in the bottom 15 percent at their respective NCAA Regional meets. Second, in the past four years, no school without a track and field program has made the NCAA national meet, and only once has such a program finished in the top half of their region. Finally, adding scholarships has no effect on long-term success in cross country without the support of at least an outdoor track and field team. This data suggests that our cross country team will soon become hamstrung, a precipitous fall from grace in only a few years. But the question I want to ask is: Was this data ever discussed in the past year? And if not, why not?
The university has acknowledged that eliminating men's track and field would not save money, alter admissions slots or increase the ratio of athletes to non-athletes, and it has also recognized the unmatched academic achievement of its men's track and field team. Instead, we have been told that eliminating track and field would allow us to bolster the rosters of other men's teams and reduce those of some women's teams.
Given the data I outlined above, this line of reasoning raises an interesting question. Does the addition of a few non-scholarship roster spots to a few teams make more sense than using those spots to offer an outdoor track and field program that can make cross country a national power every year? Does any data exist which illustrate that reallocating these spots to other sports will make a significant difference? Certainly, if cross country can become 24th in the nation without a single scholarship, teams with greater support should be able to do the same, right?
This decision was supposed to strengthen our entire athletic program, but it instead dramatically weakens a team that was spared. If one of the goals of the athletics strategic plan is to offer a cross country program that "competes successfully for conference championships, attracts national recognition, and is a source of pride for the university," I am left wondering, how does this decision meet this target if the evidence clearly points to a significant decline in competitiveness?
A course of action that would save outdoor track and field seems reasonable and balanced. The university has been silent on this issue, but it deserves consideration.
Let me be clear: I do not question the intentions of those involved in the evaluation process or the diligence with which they worked over the past year to strengthen our athletics program. I do not doubt the commitment and loyalty of the athletics task force, the trustees, and President Ayers to a strong future for the University of Richmond. But do they not owe it to students and alumni to revisit this decision if the data used to make it was incomplete?
Saving outdoor track and field would align with the best interests of all university sports. I do not accept that we are unable to reach a compromise in the coming weeks that will be championed throughout the community and across the nation.
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