The COVID-19-induced shutdown is driving the need or providing the excuse for colleges to cut their track & field programs (among other sports). This post will keep a running tally of those programs; their 2018/19 expenses and net cost, and how those compare to other sports at each school (per the Department of Education’s Equity in Athletics data); and some thoughts and takeaways about each decision and the picture as a whole.
The DOE does not have a uniform requirement for how schools report their XC/TF data: some are broken down by cross country, indoor track and outdoor track, while others lump all their XC/TF programs as “All Track Combined.”
Division I XC/TF program cuts
1. University of Akron: Men’s Cross-Country (May 14)
University of Akron cut men’s golf and women’s tennis along with the men’s cross country program. Akron’s combined expenditures for men’s XC/TF were $756,583, making the three sports combined the second-least expensive of the Zip’s five men’s programs. Only men’s golf cost less at $372,048. Women’s tennis cost $502,052, and was their second-least expensive women’s sport.
Cross-country is usually the least expensive of the three sports under the XC/TF umbrella, so Akron probably saved less than $250,000 - the least of any single sport, men’s or women’s - by cutting men’s cross country.
2. Central Michigan University: Men’s Indoor and Outdoor Track (May 19)
Central Michigan University cut only these programs, taking the complementary approach as Akron: whereas Akron cut cross country and kept track & field, CMU cut track & field but retained cross-country.
CMU’s combined XC/TF cost $760,034 - like Akron, the second-least expensive of their five men’s programs. Wrestling cost $737,858, so the Chippewas’ intended savings by cutting men’s track & field is less than the cost of the wrestling program.
Cutting track & field is much worse for cross country than cutting cross country is for track & field. No distance runner will stay for long at a school that only offers them one season of competition. Distance runners at Akron may feel they are at a training, competitive or scholarship disadvantage by not having cross country, but the impact is much less than it is for the runners at CMU.
Both Central Michigan University and the University of Akron are in the Mid-American Conference, suggesting that the mid-majors are first going to reduce the number of programs to the bare minimum to maintain Division I status, and then decide if they need to take advantage of the waivers of Division I requirements requested in mid-April.
3. Appalachian State University, men’s indoor track & field (May 26)
Appalachian State cut men’s soccer and tennis along with indoor track & field. Tennis was their least expensive men’s sport, soccer the fourth-least expensive and their combined XC/TF program the fifth-least expensive of eight men’s programs. The total XC/TF expenditure for 2018/19 was $842,908.
Unlike Akron and Central Michigan, Appalachian State’s men’s XC/TF cost more than their women’s program.
The permutations will continue until the budget improves! Appalachian State will keep cross country and outdoor track & field.
Golf and wrestling were between tennis and soccer on the expense list, but somehow escaped the axe. This could have been due to number of scholarships, prestige of the programs or alternative funding methods (more on that below).
Similar to Akron, it would be great to know how much each of cross country, indoor and outdoor track & field cost to really get a sense of how much the school is saving by cutting just one of the three.
4. Brown University, men’s cross-country, indoor and outdoor track & field (May 28) UPDATE: Reinstated June 9
Brown cut… well, they didn’t cut. Cutting just sounds so… violent? Micro- or macroaggressive?
Brown euphemized so absurdly we can only assume either their on-retainer McKinsey consultants or a crack team from the school’s liberal arts graduate program crafted the press release. Rather than cut, they “transitioned” 11 varsity teams to club status, as part of an “initiative” to “reshape” the program and “right-size” rosters.
No, really, they said all that and expect people to take them seriously.
Men’s XC/TF cost Brown University $306,498, the fifth-least expensive of the Bears’ 15 men’s programs. Of the four less costly men’s programs, only tennis survived.
Brown also cut men’s and women’s fencing, golf and squash; and women’s skiing and equestrian. That means XC/TF was the only coed sport where one gender was cut and the other remained.
Give Brown credit for one thing: they’re not even trying to make this about the COVID-19-induced shutdown. They were quite upfront that this was the result of a long-term process (you know, the right-sizing) and not a response to the loss of athletics department or university-wide revenues from the shutdown.
Now withdraw that credit for the way they caught and ate their own tail by citing their commitment to diversity and inclusion by cutting the single most diverse and inclusive sport in, well, the world. Lesser minds than an Ivy Leaguer would have gotten tangled in a web of Title IX / D&I compliance gobbledygook long before now, but that doesn’t mean we don’t expect a school like Brown to be masters of the game they choose to play.
They should have stuck to honesty: They just didn’t want these sports as varsity any more.
Coaches at three of the first four D-I universities had an email in their inbox from us at least one month before the axe fell, inviting them to a one-on-one or group conversation about creating a future in this sport and their profession. None of them responded to take us up on the offer, or even say “Who TF are you?”
Brown’s “transition” is one more sign of the cluelessness surrounding the field events. Some of the other “transitioned” sports will find similar competition and training quality at the club level as at varsity. Brown’s administration can delude themselves into thinking that various intra- or extramural running clubs can compare to Division I running. But at no level - in no world - is there a “club” equivalent for the throws, jumps, hurdles and sprints. Even if Brown poured a substantial amount of money into “club track & field” and it really was “track & field” and not just distance running, there are no club competitions for the field events unless they compete “unattached” at the same NCAA meets they were just in, but now at the disadvantage of having lost varsity resources.
Brown is sitting on a multibillion dollar endowment, like most (all?) Ivy League schools. This was a point of consternation for many commenters: “How can they cut a six-figure program when sitting on 10-figure endowment?!?”
How schools tap their endowments during this crisis is for someone else to handle. But at least for XC/TF….
UPDATE: Apparently the multiyear process of right-sizing was incomplete, inasmuch as two weeks later the university reversed their decision. What can we say: the Ivy Leagues tend to lead by following whoever is currently the loudest. Well done, T&F alumni. Will the fencing alumni be next to rattle their sabres, or will some other sport be their foil? (Does anyone have a play on words for epee?)
Big(ger) picture D-I takeaways
1. These are not the endowments you are looking for
Not long after University of Akron announced the men’s cross country cut, several alumni - notably Clayton Murphy - attempted to raise money to revive the program. Some Brown alumni and assorted commenters are calling on Brown to tap into the university’s endowment to keep the (ahem) “transitioned” programs at the varsity level.
Raising bridge funds for a season or two will be difficult, and over the long-term will be insufficient, for the same reason: The economy is currently in the loo and not showing signs of people having sentimentally disposable income for a save-our-program campaign for the foreseeable future.
The endowment talk is both misguided and late, especially at schools with well-off alumni like Brown.
By 2016, the word had been going out to college coaches to get their programs endowed. Coaches were told that, when the time comes for schools to cut programs, whatever the reason may be at that time, only endowed programs - that is, with funding independent of the university’s revenues and whims - would be truly secure. Only an endowment would make them antifragile to whatever black swan landed on the track.
We don’t know which programs heeded the advice, but we know at least four that didn’t.
2. A thousand paper cuts
If schools really wanted to save money, they’d cut football and men’s basketball, but we all know they’re not going to do that. If anything, it’s the opposite: cut whatever you have to in order to protect The Precious.
Many football programs subsidize much of the rest of their athletics department: football is usually the only profitable program in a department, and the smaller sports mostly operate at a loss (in track & field’s case, very often a significant loss). However, unless there’s some shady accounting (in higher education? Angels and ministers of grace protect us!), this idea doesn’t apply to the programs cut so far. The Department of Education’s data shows that all sports at each of these schools operate on a balanced budget.
Whatever the reason, all four schools to have cut some portion of XC/TF (yes, Brown, you cut XC/TF) are starting from the bottom and cutting their way up. This strategy allows the schools to cut the most athletes (i.e., scholarships) and fiddle with whatever Division I and Title IX quotas they need to meet.
Or maybe they just figured that these are the sports no one - including sponsors and donors - would miss much. Either way, track & field writ large will eventually feel the effects of these and future cuts.
3. Who is secure enough to pass up any opportunity for anything?
Universities may not do a great job teaching students real-life economics, but they can still deliver practica via the staff about it. When universities cut sports programs, they increase the supply of available coaches while simultaneously decreasing the demand for coaches. The only way this corrects itself is if someone creates more jobs for coaches or if coaches leave XC/TF coaching for another line of work.
This is what we mean when we say “profession security” as opposed to “job security.” Job security is being able to hold on to your current job. Profession security is knowing there will be another job for you, somewhere, if you lose your current job.
Coaches at three of the first four Division I universities had an email in their inbox from us at least one month before the axe fell, inviting them to a one-on-one or group conversation about such things as the overall collegiate / post-collegiate scene, networking with their peers during this period of uncertainty and isolation, creating new professional opportunities for athletes and coaches… all things relevant to profession security and having some way of staying as T&F coaches if, as may happen, they can no longer be college T&F coaches.
None of them responded to take us up on the offer, or even say “Who TF are you?”
Over 100 coaches at other schools received the same introduction / invitation. Wonder which of those non-respondents will be the next ones to find their programs listed on this page.
Non-Division I XC/TF cuts
1. Notre Dame de Namur, men’s and women’s cross country and track & field (March 23)
Notre Dame de Namur is in a long process of shuttering the school, and the events of the spring accelerated part of that process: the athletics department was originally planned to extend for the remainder of the school’s lifespan, but now the athletics department ended this year in order to preserve the rest of the university for its final year of existence.
The combined, total XC/TF program cost $451,951 in 2018/19, the third-most expensive (of seven) and just under one-fifth of the school’s $2.7 million athletics budget.
2. Urbana University, men’s and women’s cross country (April 21)
Urbana University ended their entire athletics department in late April. Urbana did not have track: only cross-country, which cost the school $94,527 - the least expensive of Urbana’s 11 sports.
3. Holy Family College, men’s and women’s cross country and track & field (May 3)
For whatever reason, DOE does not have any data for Holy Family College, an NAIA school, that closed their doors at the end of the spring semester.
4. Rollins College, men’s and women’s cross country (May 15)
Back to normal… Rollins College cut their least expensive sport - men’s and women’s cross country - and only their least expensive sport, the one that cost them $71,508. Rollins spent over $1 million on each of basketball and soccer, with a total athletics budget of $8,779,399. Acting like a Division I school, they are.
5. MacMurray College, men’s and women’s cross country (May 26)
MacMurray College is also shutting down, taking their 11 teams with them. The men’s and women’s cross country team cost a remarkable $15,242 in 2018/19. Even more remarkable is that they spent only $276,302 on football.
6. Elmira College, men’s and women’s cross country (June 5)
More normalcy and a first for vapidity on this list: Elmira College cut their two least expensive sports, women’s golf ($24,459) and men’s and women’s cross country ($30,129). That allows 18 programs to survive, including … wait for it… esports. Not surprisingly, esports - not being a real, er, NCAA-recognized (yet) sport - does not have data in the DOE database.
Non-Division I takeaways
1. Smaller budgets but fatal dangers
Several of the non-Division I schools are not just cutting sports or athletics departments, but going out of business altogether. The COVID-19-induced shutdown is accelerating a lot of terminal processes already in motion, but without the protection of scale, its effects hit the very small schools much more signficantly. For the coaches, it’s the same either way: out of a job with fewer available. For the athletes, it would be interesting to see if they are any more or less motivated to keep going than their counterparts in Division I programs or non-Division I schools that are cutting programs but staying open.
2. Are we all going to be on e?
Old and busted: Football subsidizes all other sports. New hotness: Esports subsidize all other sports?