Save Our Sport

As colleges try to manage budgets and Title IX,
running suffers

by John Furgele

Welcome to the 21st century. In college athletics, that means more money than ever from television for football and basketball. CBS is in the beginning stages of an $11 billion package that gives them the rights to the NCAA tournament, aka, March Madness, through 2011. In football, teams that make BCS bowl games earn at least $12 million for their participation---win or lose.

Recently, we have all read about the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) trying to annex three or four teams from the Big East Conference to form a "superconference." By having 12 or more teams in a conference, the ACC, like the Big 12 and SEC (Southeastern Conference) can host a conference championship game. The reason: money, of course.

Does anyone care that these conference championship games are the week before final exams? Of course not, but these college presidents will tell you that they really care about the student athlete, when, in reality, all they care about is money. It used to be that a college president was its academic leader. Today, if a college president isn't a skilled fundraiser, they don't last.

Despite the enormous amounts of money given to universities from basketball and football, a strange thing is happening. Sports at many schools are being eliminated. For years, it was wrestling that was given the heave-ho, in order to save money and to comply with Title IX legislation. Syracuse University used to boast one of the nation's finer wrestling programs, but the school no longer offers it as an intercollegiate sport.

Many schools need to cut their budgets, but many are also hiding behind Title IX as the reason. Title IX, a law since 1972 basically states that the number of athletic opportunities for women has to equal to the number available for men. If a school's student body is 50 percent male and 50 percent female, then the number of opportunities has to be 50-50.

The other way is to count up the number of athletes in all intercollegiate sports and make sure it's even. If there are 200 men playing intercollegiate athletics at a university, then there has to be 200 women.

The biggest problem in complying with Title IX is football. Division I schools can carry 85 players on a roster. Because there are no women's sports that require such a number, schools have a choice: add more women's sports, or cut men's sports. Of course, cutting down the football roster to say, 60, has never been considered. At first, many schools chose to add sports for women. As a result, more institutions offer lacrosse and ice hockey for women. But, recently, because of the recent downturn in the economy, schools are now cutting men's sports. Wrestling was one of the first. Now, running is becoming the recent sport to be axed.

Take Canisius College in Buffalo, NY for example. Like many schools, Canisius athletic director Tim Dillon announced that the school would be dropping men's indoor and outdoor track and field, but would still offer cross country. In addition to citing the rising costs, Dillon insulted everyone by adding that "most people find running around in circles quite boring." Obviously, Dillon doesn't spend much time near tracks, because if he did, he would see that they are OVALS.

Canisius, like Siena is a Division I school that offers cross country, but no indoor or outdoor track for men. What kind of running program will Canisius have beginning in the fall of 2003? Does anyone think that Canisius will be able to recruit talented runners to only run cross country? Of course not. At least now, Siena will have competition to see who finishes last at the MAAC Championships this fall.

An even sadder case is at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, a school with a special place in history. When I ran cross country there in the fall of 1987 (and that's not the special historical part), we were coached by Sid Sink, the American record holder in the 3,000 meter steeplechase in 1971. Sink would finish an agonizing fourth at the 1972 Olympic Trials and thus, would not be on the team that headed to Munich for the Olympics.

Sink's collegiate teammate was Dave Wottle, who shocked the world by winning the gold medal in those 1972 games, winning with a lean in his trademark baseball cap. Wottle became just as famous for forgetting to remove his hat on the victory stand as the Star Spangled Banner played. That cap is in the Track and Field Hall of Fame, next to Jesse Owens' spikes.

There will be no more Dave Wottles at Bowling Green with the school dropping both indoor and outdoor track. West Virginia recently announced that it was dropping all three running sports---XC, indoor and outdoor track. No more track. No more field. Even smaller, Division III schools like SUNY New Paltz are considering dropping track and field to save money.

Not only will running suffer, but so will chances for young students to earn athletic scholarships. Though running isn't a revenue producer, it has enabled many to run, jump and throw their way through college at schools that they probably would not be able to afford otherwise.

The 2004 Summer Olympics are only one year away. When Americans struggle in distance events like the 1,500, Steeplechase, 5,000, 10,000 and marathon, the commentators will mention that the US has to do a better job of preparing its athletes to compete internationally.

Of course, when school after school continues to drop track and field, what can one expect?

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