The University of Richmond recently announced last week that it will be dropping the men's track & field program (as well as men's soccer) in favor of starting up a men's lacrosse program. The decision has caused quite a bit of blacklash as expected from University of Richmond's current track & field athletes and coaches as well as alumni of the program, but the frustration and disapproval of the University of Richmond's decision has grown beyond those it immediately impacts to the student body and faculty of the school as well as those beyond in the track & field community. The Virginia high school track & field community is large and has had many of its top prep athletes as well as coaches attend, compete, and graduate from the University of Richmond, so the loss of the men's track & field program would be a huge loss for current and future high school athletes in Virginia to receive a top notch private university education and further develop as athletes in this Olympic sport as well as end the great pipeline of coaches which have come from that school in the form of its past student-athletes. On Sunday evening at 5P until 6:15 PM within UR's Ukrop Auditorium, a newly formly organized called UR - Save Our Sports will be hosting a public meeting and forum to hear from those who formulated the current plan to drop men's track & field and soccer and add men's lacrosse as well as those who oppose the plan and present to show their support.

It would be a huge boost for the efforts if many Virginia high school coaches, athletes, and parents can attend this forum to show their support for the coach Steve Taylor and the University of Richmond men's track athletes. After losing the James Madison University's men cross country and track program several years ago and now University of Richmond men's track program on the chopping blocks, opportunities are continuing to decreasing for high school track athletes to continue their athletic careers in college. Our state cannot afford to lose many more of our Division 1 track & field programs. Its a slippery slope right now in the college athletics scene with greedy administrations and boosters forgetting the original purpose of athletic programs at their schools as it seems that money outweighs integrity, honesty, transparency, and academic reputation. Many are hiding behind Title IX to justify cutting non-revenue men's sports to expand their major revenue or more so big budgeted sports like football. There is a strong public perception in this case that the administration and board of trustees was basically bought by a significant donator to bring men's lacrosse into the school (at the expense of men's track and soccer), which the school has unable to strongly dismiss that claim or perception. 

In the spring of 2011, the University of Richmond men in had the highest GPA's in the entire country for any Division 1 track & field program. Their program qualified for NCAA Nationals in cross country as recent as 2010 and been a consistent top tier program within the Southeast region without the help of athletic scholarships. In the program's glory days back in the 1970s and 1980s (when they had scholarships) under Coach Fred Hardy, they were a national powerhouse including at one point setting a world record in the 4x800 meter relay. Their program has been comrprised of truly student-athletes. They have had several athletes qualify for NCAA Nationals in track & field in recent years and sent athletes regular to compete for Team USA in the World Mountain Running Championships each fall.

An online petition (link below) has been started in support of the UR men's track & field program and at last check, signatures were approaching 10,000! Sign the petition below as a supporter of track & field and the common good of the sport. Virginia high school track & field needs and benefits from this collegiate program in our state! Be there on Sunday at 5 PM if you can!

 
The men of the University of Richmond Spiders’ Indoor and Outdoor Track and Field teams are the most recent victims of university politics.  Yesterday morning, the men of the indoor and outdoor track and field teams were notified that the Richmond athletic program had been “reconfigured” so that the close of the ’12-’13 season will see the track and field programs demoted to a club team.  The Richmond men’s soccer team is also being “reconfigured.”  The reason?  Roster spots. 

The university is cutting both men’s track and field and men’s soccer in favor of adding a men’s lacrosse team, rather than funding an additional women’s team to achieve the proper Title IX balance.  Richmond has been no slouch in the track and field arena over the past decade, both on, and off the track.  The men’s track and field program has been named an Academic All-America Team for each of the past 10 years (’03-’12); 2011 saw the Spiders achieve the highest cumulative GPA (3.51) of all men’s track and field teams in the nation, beating out Harvard and Duke; and the track and field programs has seen numerous All-American honors over the past decade.  Not to mention that all of this has been accomplished without scholarships.  When the Richmond men made the NCAA XC championships in 2010, none of the athletes were being paid a dime by the athletic department.  Though the cross country team will not be cut, it is no doubt affected by the deletion of the track and field program, as virtually all of the cross country athletes are members of the track and field teams as well. 

In an email sent to the Richmond athletes, University of Richmond Athletic Director, Jim Miller, sites that the decision was made to meet the “future needs of the university and the next generation of student athletes;” Hardly any consolation for the 19 track and field athletes who will return next year to an unfunded track and field team.  Miller’s further attempt at consolation was to state that the athletes would still be allowed to compete in a “limited number of meets,” just not conference, regionals, or nationals, but who wants to run those anyway?  The great news to Miller is that this “reconfiguration” will come with a new $3 million endowment from “multiple donors.”

Let’s get back to this issue of roster spots.  Cutting the Indoor and Outdoor Track and Field teams, along with the men’s Soccer team will free up 64 roster spots for male athletes.  The university wants to keep the number of student athletes consistent so as not to disrupt the proportion of student athletes to regular students on campus.  Saying that the track and field athletes are not regular students is hardly fair.  As stated above, none of these athletes are on athletic scholarship, and the university only provides minor assistance (minimal help for 2 athletes per year) with university admission.  That means that all other athletes are required to gain admission to the university on their own accord, as well as to find other means to cover the financial burdens of school.  Sounds an awful lot like a “regular student” to me.  What makes them different?  100 miles per week?  Back on the issue of roster spots, the lacrosse team requires 40 spots.  So what happens to the extra 24 spots?  Football and baseball rosters, perhaps? It’s hard to say for sure, but there are definitely some shocking inconsistencies in this plan.

As part of his reasoning, Miller added that this decision was the “most effective means for fulfilling the University's athletic strategic plan, which includes a commitment to enable our student athletes to achieve ambitious academic, athletic, and personal aspirations, and to compete successfully for conference championships and national recognition.”  Let’s think on this for a moment, while keeping the numerous accolades states above in mind.  The men’s track and field team appears to have achieved ambitions academic and athletic aspirations, as well as national recognition.

So what about the men of the Richmond Track and Field program?  In his statement, Miller said that “a University Task Force spent more than a year of extensive study and analysis before presenting its recommendations to the University’s Board of Trustees,” yet the members of the track and field team only found out this morning.  Several members of the team have already redshirted in order to return to Richmond for a 5th year.  Before I go on, remember that this 5th year is not just a time commitment for these runners, but also a financial commitment as none of the runners are on athletic scholarship.  The decision to run a 5th year comes at the cost of $50,000; one of the highest tuitions in the nation.  Now these runners are left trying to decide whether to stay with a crippled program, or pick up their lives and move elsewhere.

It is, to say the least, a very sad moment for the running community to see another track and field program succumb to politics.  We can only wish the affected Richmond athletes the best in this situation and hope that everything works out for them. 

As stated above, there are many inconsistencies regarding the University’s “reconfiguration” plan, and it can’t hurt to make a little bit of noise.  The program may already be gone, but we can still get behind these kids and help make their voice a little louder.  Below are the email addresses of the University of Richmond Athletic Director, Jim Miller, and the University of Richmond President, Edward Ayers.  Feel free to let them know how you feel. 

Jim Miller :   jim.miller@richmond.edu

Edward Ayers :  edward.ayers@richmond.edu