Keeping Track

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Keeping Track

Written by Rod O’Donnell on 23 December 2012.

A Division I institution has dropped its men’s track program, along with men’s soccer. This time the victim is the University of Richmond. Unfortunately, this act has become repeated often in recent years; however, the reasons given for this particular decision are truly amazing.

In an article that appeared in the Richmond Times, Athletic Director Jim Miller stated, “The reasons that soccer was selected was lack of recent success and contributions from former soccer players and the challenge of gaining national prominence in soccer, a sport with 100’s  of Division I teams. There were 61 lacrosse teams last spring.” As the reader will note, the track and field team wasn’t even mentioned in the quote. Yes, lacrosse was noted. Why? A three million dollar contribution was made by alumni who wanted to see the sport given varsity status at Richmond. Miller also stated, “It’s not just a money issue.” Miller has since left his director’s position and taken a newly created role of Assistant to the President (for Athletic Advancement).

If the “educators” at the Virginia school that was founded in 1830 use this type of logic, then if a wealthy group want to add water polo and contribute four million dollars, it would be added, and lacrosse would be dropped. After all, there are only 18 schools that offer water polo as a varsity sport; thus water polo would have an even better opportunity to reach “national prominence.”

Other reasons given for the decision were: “The decision was focused on the most effective means of fulfilling the university’s strategic plan which includes a commitment to enable our student-athletes to achieve ambitious academic, athletic, and personal aspirations needed to compete for conference championships and national recognition.” Admittedly, soccer and men’s track had not had a great deal of athletic success on the conference level. This is rather difficult to do when the latter sport was given no scholarships, and 22 of the 23 young men on the roster are distance runners. If money were not available to sustain the teams that were already in place, and three million dollars appeared to start a lacrosse program, it would appear that those in charge of fund raising were not doing much to help. Instead, they would rather accept a gift from the lacrosse special interest group. One can only wonder if such groups exist in track and soccer. Coaches and supporters with the ability to raise such funds must never assume that their sport is safe from cuts; however, in this situation, advocates of track were denied the opportunity to raise money to save their sport AFTER the decision was made. Where were those supporters, BEFORE the action was taken?

Richmond contradicts itself by stating in the university’s strategic plan for Spider student-athletes that it is a goal “to foster a culture in athletics that demonstrates a commitment to fostering diversity and inclusiveness, in all dimensions as defined in Principle 11 of the Richmond promise.” Track and soccer are two sports that meet this goal in terms of race and ethnicity. Lacrosse rarely fulfills the objectives of this goal.

Another misguided reason used for the decision was high school participation rates. According to the National Federation of High School Association’s 2011-2012 Report, track and field was second among all high schools in participation rates and had five times more young men taking part than lacrosse.  (Track: 575,628/Lacrosse: 100,641)

The tragic story of schools dropping our sport continues.  Immediately after the sad announcement is made, coaches, alumni, athletes, and parents follow the same reaction pattern of disbelief, anger, and threats of withdrawing financial support. Unfortunately, this response has been to no avail in every situation. The answer is to practice preventative medicine, by not being complacent about the security of the sport, scoring all meets, reporting field event results in imperial measurements, and bringing back the mile. Never believe that those who hold the purse strings are not constantly watching the return that they are getting on their investment.


Yours in track,

Rod O’Donnell


Other Keeping Track articles:

Life Lessons from Cross Country -

Ten Pledges for Cross Country Coaches -

London Olympics -

Improving as a Coach –

You Only Go Around Once -

Dear Jesse Owens –

West Virginia State Cross Country Championship –

SPIRE Institute -

Bringing Back OHIO Track web site:

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