By Tonya Jarrett
Special to the College Sports Journal
PHILADELPHIA, PA. — I have written this editorial to bring attention to the plight of the Varsity Men’s Track & Field/Cross-Country programs at Millersville University (PA).
Administrators from Millersville claim that eliminating three sports — men’s cross-country, men’s track and field and indoor track and field — will save the university $200,000. “We had to look at cost containment,” claims Dr. Aminta Breaux, who oversees the athletic department.
I believe what these administrators, President McNairy, Vice-President Breaux, and Chancellor Cavanaugh have done is wrong. And yet the Millersville administrators continue to duck, weave and obfuscate, hoping students will give up in their fight to save Millersville’s men’s track teams.
I live and work in San Diego. One of the MU runners, Michael Parker, who will be attending Yale University for graduate school next fall, was a participant in our summer 2011 program for which I am the assistant.
I got to know him and as with many of the students, became quite fond of him.
He is not only an outstanding student but a great young man, who perhaps covers up any perceived insecurities with a little more bravado and seeming egoism than necessary (and for which he is still teased).
And I knew Mike was a runner; noting that he has the legs of Hermes and the heart of Goliath, he was always running while in San Diego and running just happens to be in his blood. It’s a huge part of his life.
Imagine my sorrow when I heard that Millersville was discontinuing its track programs.
“Millersville University of Pennsylvania announced a reduction of three varsity intercollegiate athletic sports in order to strengthen existing teams’ competitive opportunities and ensure a sustainable financial future for the athletics department,” a press release from Millersville unceremoniously announced on Valentine’s Day, 2012. The release claimed a savings of over $200,000 a year.
Unsurprisingly, it devastated Mike and his teammates – a Valentine’s day they will not soon forget.
That bravado and egoism I spoke of above was obliterated. I forget how tender and young he still is in the face of our students’ intelligence and strength of will to persevere academically.
From there, though, alumni, affected students and Mike took action to try to save their men’s track programs.
The group CROS – Coalition to Rescue Our Sports – was founded.
Quickly, the group organized a press conference, and members of the MU Men’s teams have worked tirelessly to fight back, including holding protests, submitting a 7,000+ signature petition (a petition that VP Breaux at first would not even acknowledge or accept in person until the students delivering it persisted), signed by not only concerned U.S. citizens and others across the globe, but by world-class athletes supporting the fight for reinstatement of the programs.
“Many are asking if the administration had been considering this for so long, why hadn’t they worked with or at least notified the affected parties prior to this time, rather than making this decision and saying that they are not even considering reinstating the programs,” Millersville alumnus Jim Boyer told a local news team in a statement.
“In the last decade just in this region of the country alone, James Madison University, West Virginia University, Towson University, Clarion University of Pennsylvania, the University of Delaware, and the University of Maryland have all cut their men’s cross country and track and field programs that competed at the Division I and II level and produced an abundance of coaches, and professional and world class athletes.
“Institutions like these have distorted Title IX legislation (demanding equality for women in sports) to pretend that they have quickly fixed budget issues of their athletic departments. Men’s programs such as cross country and track and field are some of the least expensive sports to fund because they use the same coaches and travel mechanisms as the women’s programs.”
CROS also looked into the claims of Millersville administrators on their claims of savings for the athletic department – and found that the numbers didn’t add up.
In CROS’ timeline of events, not only did an independent investigation determine that the “cost savings” from cutting these sports were off by as much as 40%, but their justification of making the change due to “budget cuts” was seriously undermined when MU president Francine McNairy and vice president of finance Roger Bruszewski received raises of more than $10,000 to their salaries just last year.
Furthermore, members of CROS presented an alternative plan to downgrade one men’s program to club status, and to immediately endow the program with $300,000 to fund the programs for three years, while adding other cost savings to make the program sustainable.
Not only did MU turn down the offer, President McNairy has refused to meet with CROS to talk about any plan that could save the program.
I’ve kept myself informed, reading the CROS messages at Facebook, and at the request of CROS, I have written letters to the above-named administrators, as well as several Pennsylvania politicians, including Governor Corbett and Lt. Governor Todd Kowalski, receiving minimal response.
This section of my letter to the administrators proves most pertinent: “I would ask that you do everything you can to find a creative solution to fund these teams. As not only administrators, but educators, it is within your power to do so, and is actually an obligation in light of the stunning fact that you have taught these young people well; to persevere, to be resilient, to fight for their truths … In the end, truth is the best solution.”
Recently, Michael Parker and his coach Andy Young, the Millersville track coach were invited to appear on the new Bob Costas Tonight show to discuss the impacts of Title IX on their athletics program (video is available of a snippet of the show on the link).
To me, the MU administrators aren’t interested in truth or the agony they’ve caused; students having to transfer to another school, a coach losing his job, all thanks to a petty bureaucracy that could care less.
Please offer your help and support to CROS to reinstate these programs by contacting Glenn Stephens or Bob Vasile at saveMUsports@gmail.com.
I hope that citizens of Pennsylvania, especially Millersville alumni, who are interested in fair play at their state universities, indeed any university, will join in action with CROS (Coalition to Rescue our Sports).