Collegiate track and field and cross-country may be facing its darkest hour as more Division I schools have dropped or are planning to discontinue these sports. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has provided the guilty athletic departments an excuse to once again severely damage the sport that surpasses all others in providing opportunities for minorities, women, and athletes of all body types to compete. It is also the least expensive sport to sponsor. As an example, according to the popular website, FloTrack, the University of Akron annually spends these amounts per athlete: Track and Field - $1500; Men’s Soccer - $7,900; and men’s basketball, $47,000.

Since 2006, when I began writing for RUNOHIO, I have penned 15 articles expressing concerns and solutions about the problems that our sport is experiencing. Many of these ideas have probably been met with skepticism and were viewed as “the sky is falling” mentality. Due to the present environment, I would hope that the number of dissenters is shrinking. Bluntly stated, our sport is under attack by those administrators who have viewed it as a burden, a perception that has been in place for many years. They now have another reason to accelerate its destruction.

I have selected three universities that have ended or are planning to eliminate the sponsorship of men’s track and field and/or cross-country, and one that reinstated a program after push back. As the reader can see, the thoughtless reasoning is preposterous.

(left) Garrett Crichlow and Clayton Murphy

University of Akron – cut men’s cross-country

According to an article in the Akron Beacon Journal, the sport cost the athletic department $7,900 in operating expenses last fall. Compare that to the previously stated fact on the per athlete cost of one member of the men’s soccer team. The university’s mandate was to save 4.3 million dollars. If my math is correct, that leaves $4,292,100 to go.

B. There were 16 men on the 2019 roster. The track program allocated 1.2 of its NCAA  scholarship limit of 12.5 to these athletes. If the scholarship amount is divided  between the number of team members, it is clear that the university will not lose money, considering what these students were paying to attend school.

C. When asked to justify the reasons for no longer including cross-country among their sponsored sports, the first statement addressed cost-savings, which is obviously  not true. The second reason was a declining enrollment, resulting in a reduction of  revenues. Due to low cost of cross-country, this was quickly seen as not significant.  So, the worn-out excuse of Title IX compliance was used, but this also proved not
to be true. Finally, the administration refused to meet with Olympic medalist and  and Zip Alum Clayton Murphy after he and others made several attempts to do so.  As of this writing, no meeting has been planned. So much for transparency.

D. According to the Beacon Journal writer, Bob Dyer, in his November 23 column,  each victory in football in the last eleven years has cost 2.8 million dollars. In 2017,  the university paid $609,180 from the general fund to buy tickets to home games in  order to meet attendance requirements necessary to maintaining Division I status.  Any intelligent person would probably put these types of decisions into the “Bad”
category. Remember, these are the same people responsible for guiding institutions  who are educating young adults in this country.

*(RUNOHIO’s article on Akron dropping Men’s Cross Country- http://www.runohio.com/index.php/news-features/news/79-university-of-akron-drops-men-s-cross-country  

Central Michigan University – cut men’s track and field

A. Upon a review of the CMU athletic department website/staff directory, I discovered that there were 23 deputy, senior deputy, associate or senior associate athletic  directors on the staff. Additionally, there were assistant athletic directors with  duties listed as follows: capital projects, fan engagement, membership in the  Chippewa Athletic Fund (who assists the director of the CAP). Add countless  secretaries, graduate assistants, and other “support personnel” - all for a  department that sponsors FIVE men’s sports and ELEVEN women’s sports. This  administrative staff appears to be top heavy. With some intelligent trimming, funds  to support eliminated programs could emerge.

Despite dropping below the NCAA men’s sports (6) required to remain Division I,  the damage was done. Ominously, CMU was granted a two-year waiver of this requirement, setting a dangerous precedent for our sport at other universities.

When asked, the athletic director stated that he would add another sport when the crisis ended, emphasizing that it would NOT be track.

NOTE: Eliminating these sports at CMU drops the once-proud Mid-American Conference to four indoor and five outdoor men’s track teams. What would coaching greats Stan Huntsman (Ohio), Mel Brodt (Bowling Green,) Jack Shaw (WMU) and George Dales (WMU) say about this sad saga?

*(RUNOHIO’s article on Central Michigan dropping Men’s Track & Field)

Brown University

When this article was originally written, Brown University had announced that they were demoting the men’s track and cross-country program to club status, despite a 4.2 billion dollar university endowment; however, when the alumni and supporters organized a huge campaign to remain at the Division I level for their sport, the administration reversed the initial decision and reinstated both sports. Despite a variety of opinions as to why this occurred, it is great news for track and field, and it illustrates how a strong, united effort can made a difference.

*RUNOHIO found this article on Facebook -  https://medium.com/@dancingdinks/brown-university-if-you-were-actually-serious-about-racial-justice-you-would-not-be-cutting-the-d9e698b707e1 

University of Connecticut – sources are reporting that several sports,  including track and field and cross-country, will be cut

A. Funding is the reason given for the discontinuation of sports.

B. Let’s look closely at the funding decisions made at UConn: Head football coach’s bonuses –
1) Scoring first in a game - $2,000; Leading at halftime - $2,000; Red Zone % advantage vs opponent -$2,000. This sounds more like Las Vegas than a state university. In 2018, despite a 1-11 record, the head coach and coordinators pocketed $84,000 in bonuses. Imagine what they were last year when the team went 2-10? (All of these facts are quoted from Sports Illustrated, May 26, 2020, “UConn’s Football Failures are Catching Up To It,” by Pat Forde.)

The list of schools and the reasons for dropping men’s track and field and cross-country could go on, but just citing the examples in this article will help our readers focus on the scope of the problem. The fact is that athletic directors and university presidents many times do not view our sport as an important part of their programs, despite opposition from coaches, athletes, alumni, and the thousands of fans. Sadly, the “Mother of All Sports” has been relegated to the far reaches of news coverage and interest.

Next month’s article will address why high school coaches should be very concerned and aware of what is happening on the collegiate level.

Yours in track,
Rod O’Donnell

*Top Mid American Conference Men Track & Field Men Athletes http://www.runohio.com/index.php/news-features/features/84-top-mid-american-conference-men-track-field-men-athletes 

*RUNOHIO added the above articles to Rod O’Donnell’s article.

Check out more KEEPING TRACK articles on: www.runohio.com 

Keep Track – Track -  http://runohio.com/index.php/news-features/features/67-keeping-track 

Marc Bloom’s Amazing Racers - http://runohio.com/index.php/news-features/features/43-keeping-track-marc-bloom-s-amazing-racers-by-rod-o-donnell 

Life Lessons from Cross-Country – Updated 2019 - http://runohio.com/index.php/news-features/features/10-life-lessons-from-cross-country-updated-2020 

Football and Track & Field - http://www.runohio.com/index.php/news-features/features/78-keeping-track-football-and-track-field 

Take care and I hope to see you at a race soon.

Matt McGowan