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