You have accumulated donations with a value of $7 million in order for the track team to continue the excellence that it has attained for your university for decades. Suddenly, three administrators, the president, provost, and athletic director, decide to discontinue the program and use the money to support other sports. This is what has happened to one of the most iconic programs in the country: The College of William & Mary. This storied program has been led by coaching legends Harry Groves, John Randolph, Roy Chernock, Walt Drenth, and Dan Stimson; it has produced NCAA champions, Olympians, world record holders, Rhodes Scholars, Academic All-Americans, and many other true student-athletes.

(In addition to the program’s endowment, the college recently raised over ONE BILLION DOLLARS in their recent fundraising campaign, marketed as “For the Bold.”)

Reasons provided by the administration for dropping the track and field program, along with swimming (men), volleyball (women), and gymnastics (men and women), were the usual worn-out excuses used by other schools who follow the same pattern: support from donors; potential for revenue; proven or likelihood of success; operating costs; facilities; diversity/gender equity; viability as an NCAA sport. Let’s fact-check these “reasons” as they apply to the men’s track program:

1. Support from donors – As mentioned, the program has a $7 million endowment, given entirely by donors who supported the track team over decades. (FACT)

2. Potential for revenue – NO sport at W&M has significant revenue capabilities. According to a column by D. R. Hildebrand in the Richmond Times (9/13/20), football had a net loss of $1.7 million, and men’s basketball lost $750,000 last year. Additionally, with in-state tuition costing of $16,383 and out-of-state tuition $39,595, added to a limited amount of awarded scholarships and a roster of 36 men, the program was adding to the coffers of “the alma mater of the nation.” (FACT)

3. Proven or likelihood of success – Five CAA championships, 11 Southern Conference indoor championships, 12 Southern Conference out door championships, first league championship in Virginia-Carolina Conference in 1925, 15 NCAA indoor championship appearances, 18 NCAA outdoor championship appearances, 159 individual  NCAA qualifiers outdoors, 41 Olympic Trial qualifiers, two Rhodes Scholars, 17 Phi Beta Kappa members, 48 inductees of the W&M Hall of Fame, seven Tribe Club/SET Senior Athletes of the Year – the list goes on. (FACT)

4. Operating cost – With a $7 million endowment, a limited schedule, limited scholarships, reasonable travel budgets, the ability to schedule competitively within three hours of Williamsburg, low equipment costs, and one staff that is responsible for SIX (men’s and women’s indoor track, men’s and women’s outdoor track, men’s and women’s cross-country) NCAA-sponsored sports, it is apparent that the college was getting their money’s worth from these programs. (FACT)

5. Facilities – The recently-completed Zabel Stadium serves as the host venues for the football and track teams. Home meets include the Colonial Relays that celebrated the 54th anniversary meet in 2019 and hosted 52 teams in the nations largest scored meet. Imagine the income generated in Williamsburg, by those visiting teams! (FACT)

6. Diversity and Gender Equity – Track and field is one of the most diverse teams in any athletic department. It provides events for all body types, presents the same events for men and women, and, on a national scale, and offers opportunities for African-Americans equal to any sport. Additionally, the American collegiate system is the major provider that prepares athletes for the U. S. Olympic Team. (FACT)

7. Viability as an NCAA Sport – Of 350 Division I institutions, 270 sponsor men’s track and field. (FACT)

It is very evident the decision that was made to eliminate men’s track and field at William & Mary has many flaws. It is inexcusable for a school with a history of an extremely successful program to try and justify this decision. When one reviews the strategic plan for the future of athletics, “Tribe 2025”, it is even more difficult to comprehend the reasoning behind the decision. 

As a veteran coach whose teams competed against William & Mary many times, including hosting the Tribe for the first-ever meet held at the Kent State Indoor Facility, I can unequivocally say that the elimination of our beloved sport not only damages the institution, but the terrible decision leaves a hole in the heart of track and field in the United States. Once again, I use the  word “tragedy” to describe what short-sighted and ill-informed administrators are doing to the “mother of all sports,” and, for that reason, they should be embarrassed and openly criticized by those who care about a sport that gave so much to those who mourn its loss.

Yours in track, 

Rod O’Donnell

Read more of Rod O’Donnell’s Keeping Track articles on www.runohio.com 

KEEPING TRACK - COVID 19 and Sports - http://www.runohio.com/index.php/news-features/news/120-keeping-track-covid-19-and-sports-by-rod-o-donnell 

Life Lessons from Cross-Country - http://runohio.com/index.php/news-features/features/10-life-lessons-from-cross-country-updated-2020        

Facts - http://www.runohio.com/index.php/news-features/features/100-keeping-track-facts    

Keep Track – Track  -  http://runohio.com/index.php/news-features/features/67-keeping-track     

Marc Bloom’s Amazing Racers, By Rod O’Donnell - http://runohio.com/index.php/news-features/features/43-keeping-track-marc-bloom-s-amazing-racers-by-rod-o-donnel 

Critical Time for Cross Country and Track & Field -   http://www.runohio.com/index.php/news-features/features/96-track      

Football and Track & Field -    http://www.runohio.com/index.php/news-features/features/78-keeping-track-football-and-track-field          

Take care and I hope to see you at a race soon.

Matt McGowan