MAC losing men's track programs one after another

Marshall was the latest men's track & field program cut in the MAC
Just exactly how safe is your men's track & field program? That's exactly what many people are asking around the Mid-American Conference after the recent cuts to Bowling Green, Toledo and Marshall in just over a span of one year.

Miami also had their men's indoor program removed in 1997, which will leave men's track & field in the MAC with 8 indoor and 9 outdoor programs in 2004. Just two years ago at the 2001 MAC Outdoor Championships, 12 men's programs participated. The MAC currently has 13 member schools, not including Central Florida, who is a football-only member.

The 13 member institutions have a total enrollment of better than 285,000, with individual enrollments ranging from 13,000-30,000. The MAC's overall enrollment makes it the fourth-largest conference in the United States. Their alumni number over a million.

The MAC is a presidentially controlled conference, sponsoring 23 sports. All major policy decisions are made by the Council of Presidents, which consists of chief executive officers of the 12 universities. For men, championships (11) are sponsored in football, basketball, baseball, cross country, soccer, swimming and diving, indoor track and field, outdoor track and field, wrestling, golf and tennis. For women, championships (12) are sponsored in basketball, softball, volleyball, cross country, field hockey, soccer, swimming and diving, gymnastics, indoor track, outdoor track, golf and tennis.

Why are all these cuts to men's track & field happening? Is Title IX to blame? What about football? What about the overspending on most of the team sports? According to our investigation and interviews, it's a combination of everything. Most of it all, comes down to money and in the big business of the NCAA; sometimes it can turn around to haunt certain schools.

The Big Picture

Stepping outside of the MAC and looking at the overall NCAA, the majority of top athletic programs are spending money like its toy money with no end in sight.

According to the NCAA's latest financial report, colleges and universities spent $4 billion in 2001 but made only $3 billion. The average program loses $3.7 million a year. Excluding institutional support, only 35% of athletic departments are showing a profit.

Revenues also don't support the high salaries for coaches as nearly 40 are making at least $1 million per year or more.

Many people think that putting a winning football team on the field will generate revenue that will cover the costs for everyone. Although this is generally true in some cases, such as at Ohio State, winning football teams don't make universities rich.

Case in point is Marshall and Toledo. Both schools have been the class of the MAC in football over the past several years. They have even drawn the top two attendance marks in the 2002 season as Marshall was first, averaging 27,789 per game while Toledo was second rolling in 23,965.

The winning and attendance figures alone could not help save the men's track & field teams which were both cut last month.

Rockets Losing Fuel

The Toledo men will not see another day on the track anytime soon after this season

Reporting of Institutional Data for the NCAA Gender Equity Survey Equity in Athletics Disclosure Act (EADA) is now commonplace for all universities. The EADA report lists exactly what each sport spends and makes during each year.

Although we still could not get our hands on the EADA report from Toledo, we did hear back from Paul Helgren who is the Assistant Athletic Director for Media Relations. We simply asked if football was the main reason why some of the men's sports at Toledo were cut and if the program did not bring in enough money to help support the other teams.

"The football program at UT, in fact, takes in far more money than it spends," said Helgren. "Football accounts for the vast majority of our department's external revenue generation through ticket sales, advertising, marketing agreements, seat licensing and corporate suites."

The state of Ohio alone has lost many men's programs over the last decade, including cuts at Cleveland State, Cincinnati, Wright State and Dayton in which Toledo simply can't ignore about the hard economic times in the state.

"Nevertheless, the current fiscal situation in the state of Ohio, at the University of Toledo at in the UT Athletic Department in specific is forcing us to look at making cuts in all our programs," continued Helgren.

"Football is no exception and will be faced with some significant cutbacks in fiscal year 2003-04."

According to a story by Roberta de Boer from the Toledo Blade using 2000-2001 data from UT for the EADA, "The average UT female athlete got only about 82 percent of what the average male athlete received - on average, $1,325 less."

The EADA reports, however, sometimes don't tell the whole story. According to a report by the Orlando Sentinel earlier this year, although the NCAA has refined the EADAs, reporting methods and practices are far from uniform. The parts of the reports that are public don't document too many specifics.

Capital expenditures -- money spent to build facilities -- are absent. Some schools ignore booster contributions; others include them but aren't required to document them.

For example, some schools list exactly the dollars earned through tickets and concessions for its women's sports. Others add to that money transferred from boosters. That's why some schools lose upward of $10 million a year on women's sports and others lose "only" $3 million.

"For the purposes of discerning the true financial status of I-A athletic programs, these numbers are unenlightening," said Andrew Zimbalist, a professor of economics at Smith College and a watchdog of the finances of college athletics.

College sports and financial analysts suggest valuing EADA reports the same way investors do with companies' annual reports: Despite guidelines of fair play and honest accounting, remember who's providing the information.

After putting in several requests for the Toledo EADA report, none was sent to us.

Marshall Loses Thunder

Marshall assistant LeMonte Vaughn (bottom) will lose his men after this season

It was announced last month that the move to discontinue the men's track & field program at Marshall will cut expenses for the athletic department by an estimated $150,000 next year.

The reduction leaves Marshall athletics with 16 varsity sports, the minimum number required by the NCAA for Division I-A membership. The Men's Cross Country program will not be affected by the reductions.

"This is a very tough decision because of the effect it will have on the lives of several athletes," Director of Athletics Bob Marcum said. "We sympathize with the coaches and athletes who have dedicated so much of their time and effort to these sports. These decisions are not easily reached and are tough for all those involved in the process -- athletes, coaches and administrators."

It was a sad day for everyone associated with the team, especially assistant coach LeMonte Vaughn.

"This is the toughest thing I have ever had to go through in this sport," said the fourth year assistant. "The one thing that will haunt me forever is the ghostly silence in our van after I told them the bad news. We were on our way to the Penn Relays when we found out. These young men came here to graduate and run as fast as they can for as many championships as they could get their hands on."

Vaughn, who coaches the sprinting events with the Thundering Herd, has helped Marshall eclipse several school records and move closer to the goal of capturing conference titles in only three seasons.

Vaughn also competed for the University of Kentucky where he was an All-SEC performer in the 4x400m relay and 800 meters. An excellent former runner himself, Vaughn will not get the chance to show his young men the next step at the collegiate level.

"It is a shame not to have the opportunity to coach these young men and to see them share the beauty of graduation with their families," as Vaughn continued. "These young men are a part of my family and I will miss them dearly."

It was just this past indoor season at the MAC Championships that the men's 4x400 meter relay eclipsed the school record and came in second to Eastern Michigan for the title in the event with their time of 3:13.46.

The recent decisions at Marshall have not just affected the student-athletes, but everyone in the state of West Virginia associated with the sport of track & field at the high school level. Earlier in the month, West Virginia University also announced they are cutting men's track & field along with several other sports.

"These decisions have affected a lot more people than these Athletic Directors and University Presidents realize," said Vaughn. "For instance, there is now no NCAA Division I men's track & field programs in the state of West Virginia. This means that any Division I caliber type runner will have to fight 300 times harder to get out of state scholarships for track & field alone."

Former Marshall standout Casey Batey was a multiple MAC Champion

Former MAC Champion and All-American Casey Batey offered his own insight and opinion into the situation at Marshall. Having just graduated last year, the Thundering Herd teammates still feel close to him along with everyone involved in the men's program.

"I was at a meet when I found out. I grabbed a phone to call one of my old teammates (Jason Pyles) as my hands were shaking I was so mad," said the former MAC Champion. "They were supposed to cut soccer but a huge fuss was made, so they changed the decision to indoor and outdoor track."

Any sport alone is a travesty to cut, but being a former Marshall competitor on a team where it will now disappear leaves one heartbroken. What disappoints Batey most is how everyone at Marshall found out about the cuts.

"They didn't even bother to tell anyone involved with the track team as everyone found out the next by an article in the newspaper," continued Batey. "No one had even told head coach Jeff Small as that was the first he'd heard about it."

On the topic of how the current team must be feeling, Batey feels as if everyone has been betrayed.

"They were stabbed in the back by the very school they had worked so hard to represent and now all that hard work has been flushed down the toilet."

After putting in several requests for the Marshall EADA report, none was sent to us.

Bowling for Money

It came as a surprise to many last year and still is to this day. Bowling Green announced last year it would eliminate its men's track & field program. However, the reasons given seemed to contradict the official university position.

In fact, according to figures obtained from Jesse Squire, a Bowling Green alumnus and coach, Bowling Green's men's track & field team actually showed a profit.

According to Squire, the Bowling Green total men's track budget was $179,000, which is listed as only being 2 percent of the athletic department's total budget.

Former Bowling Green standout Zerian Peterson has since transferred to Purdue

However, the BG track program generated $54,000 in NCAA sport sponsorships and scholarship distribution funds, and tuition of 42 student-athletes and State of Ohio funding for in-state students, and the men's track program generated $436,978 to the university, which indicates a net profit of over $257,000.

Also of note is that during the 2000-01 school year, the so-called revenue-generating sports at Bowling Green - football and men's basketball - combined for a loss of more than $1.9 million.

"From what I've seen, the programs getting the ax are at mid-major schools," said Squire. "Specifically, ones who want to play real Division 1-A football, but don't have the resources to do so."

Bowling Green was in fact ranked in the top 25 for football this past season and even boasted an undefeated record for several weeks. It even landed them a spot for a feature story on ESPN's College Gameday.

However, over the course of 6 home games, the Falcons managed to only net 106,916 in attendance with an average of 17,819 per game. To put this into perspective, state rival Ohio State pulls in over 100,000 alone during one home game.

"The Athletic Directors at these schools see no real backlash for cutting the entire athletic programs to the bare minimum so that they can put as much into football as possible," continued Squire. "Schools in Bowl Championship Series conferences are not cutting programs, and neither are schools with any foolish big-time aspirations."

Football is ever more apparent to taking over in this country and so it does at the big time schools. Bowling Green is trying to be no exception and the program continues to this day to try and win with the big boys.

"The recent tightening of qualifications for Division 1-A football membership was nothing more than the BCS-conference schools making sure that they retained their majority," said Squire.

In an interview conducted by Chicago Athlete, Squire also stated, "The cuts, while publicly announced as both Title IX and budget related, appear to be solely to shift resources from "non-revenue" to "revenue" sports. Due to state budget cuts, adding to the overall athletic budget is not an option."

The MAC used to have scholarship limits for most sports that were somewhat lower than those set by the NCAA, on the belief that competitive balance and fiscal stability within the conference were more important than being competitive on the national level.

"The AD's from Bowling Green learned from the Miami situation to specifically make the cuts a done deal before the public knows about them," continued Squire. "Administrators from BGSU met with ones from Miami, specifically to find out how to keep the public out of it."

What does this all have to do with men's track & field at Bowling Green? Well, the end result is that no one can find it, because the team has disappeared but the football team continues to spend money and not cut any costs from which we could find.

After putting in several requests for the Bowling Green EADA report, none was sent to us.

On the note of not receiving any EADA reports, Squire noted that Ohio has sunshine laws, and if they
don't hand over any documents requested within a "reasonable time" (generally intrepreted as 24 hours) they are subject to a fine of $1,000 per document.

In general, the fact that all university employees are made aware of the sunshine laws and risk the consequences by not sending us the EADA reports, it leads us to believe that there is something they wish to hide.

Trackshark requested EADA reports from Bowling Green and Toledo two weeks before this report was published as both schools stated the report was on their way. Marshall never contacted us back for the same request, although the sports information director was trying to find the information but was unable to still to this day.

The Historic Coach Weighs In

Paul McMullen, right, with his long-time mentor and former Eastern Michigan coach Bob Parks (Detroit Free Press)

No one man has ever walked as many MAC miles as former Eastern Michigan men's head coach Bob Parks. Parks began his coaching career at Eastern Michigan in 1967 and had an immediate impact. He has coached the green and gold to 44 MAC titles and 9 NAIA and NCAA Division II National Championships.

Over the years he coached 31 NAIA and NCAA Champions and 286 MAC and Central Collegiate Conference Champions. In addition, Parks has been named MAC Coach of the Year 29 times, NCAA Regional Coach of the Year 8 times and National Coach of the Year once.

Still close to the sport to this day, Parks has a great history with the conference and offers what he can expect to see in the next few years.

"The dropping of the men's track & field programs at Toledo, Bowling Green and Marshall is not surprising, but very disappointing," said the legendary coach. "It is not going to end there in the MAC either. The copy cat syndrome will be in effect with the Athletic Directors who know nothing about our favorite sport and care less."

Other men's sports in the MAC have felt the heat as well.

"Swimming and wrestling in the MAC are now down to the minimum and they have had to add teams from outside the MAC (Kentucky for soccer) in order to have a workable number," continued Parks. "Track & field is not there yet, but it sure looks like it is heading in that direction."

It's also important to point out that in women's field hockey, Louisville had to be added in order to qualify the sport as a MAC Championship contested event.

Overspending for all sports, but most by football, seems to be the trend that is killing the non-revenue sports in conferences such as the MAC. Parks agrees that this is the big key that could unlock the door to it all being stopped.

"The Athletic Directors always have a choice, unless dictated to it by their Presidents," said Parks. "They could stop some of the silly spending that is going on, including some by the track & field coaches."

Some Athletic Directors may even get the message that their coaches simply don't care much enough about true team competition, which drives many schools around this country to showcase and excel. Sometimes our own sport is not helping our own cause.

"Athletic Directors understand team scores like in football and basketball," said Parks. "Some track coaches don't get the message that they ought to do more of this or they could get their sport jerked at their school. Sending kids across the country to try to run fast times instead of running in a team scored event, is just plain stupid, but is done regularly."

What is the solution?

In all this madness, does anyone have a solution? It's easy for one to complain and offer no insight without looking at the whole picture, but unless someone can step up to the plate and make an attempt, men's track & field in the MAC will continue to suffer.

Several current MAC track & field coaches offered their insight and opinion into the matter, including the current state of the conference.

"I believe that there are other decisions that could be made, but not knowing each institutions exact situation makes it difficult to tell what could be done," said Eastern Michigan men's head coach Brad Fairchild.

The sport of track & field is without one of the most popular participated sports in this country at the high school level and eliminating more programs may not save any money.

"I think the current climate of cutting men's track & field at the university level is a mistake," said Fairchild. "Track & Field is one of the most popular and most participated sports at the high school level and eliminating programs in this sport does not save money."

As every business person knows, keeping and bringing back more customers is crucial into staying on board.

"Each team that has been cut has many more walk-ons who are paying 'customers' at the university and I am sure many of these students chose the particular school because of the track & field programs," said Fairchild about the disadvantage. "The schools will lose more money in tuition and fees than they save in costs."

Sue Parks, the women's head coach at Ball State, couldn't agree more.

"It is very sad to see this happen," said the daughter of Bob Parks. "I ran at Eastern Michigan when all the men's schools had programs and the women didn't even have an official MAC yet. I never thought that I would see the day when all of the women's schools have programs but the men's teams are disappearing."

It's been a long road for the women to finally have some of the equal opportunities, especially in the MAC, as Parks has stated.

"I am certainly pleased to see women get opportunities that they perhaps didn't have when I ran but it shouldn't happen at the expense of the men," continued Parks. "I grew up watching all of the great (male) runners in the MAC and that is one thing that inspired me as both an athlete and a coach. It is sad to see that great tradition diminished."

Kent State was one of many schools showing support for Bowling Green last season

Akron head coach Dennis Mitchell also agrees that there needs to be a solution to this trend soon.

"At a state university, athletics has an educational mission, not a money making mission," said Mitchell. "State universities should represent the constituent high schools that feed into their universities."

Just as Fairchild has earlier stated, Mitchell agrees that there doesn't seem to be a problem at the high school level with the sport, but it's a big problem at the university level.

"Men's track and field is a major sport at the high school level," continued Mitchell. "High schools must comply with title IX, but you do not see any of these schools dropping boys track. The thirst for money, recognition and power at the NCAA level has led to turning the mission of the college athletics upside-down."

Diversity and gender equity must be met as well, however, to eliminate track & field simply removes more of this notion and just creates more of a problem.

"Track and field is the most diverse, gender equal sport and probably provides the greatest educational opportunities," said Mitchell. "Instead of being rewarded for our sport's value we are being punished by the very things that make our sport great (large participation numbers, gender equal and minority diversity)."

Going back to our analogy about football, just because you put a winning team on the field or the most fans in the seats, it does not necessarily guarantee that you will generate the most revenue or have enough to spread it all around.

"Notice that two of the more successful financial football programs in the MAC dropped track," Mitchell pointed out. "A more successful football program does not equal more prosperity for other sports. It just means spending more on football."

Public forum seems to be a big way to help save men's track & field and Mitchell agrees that more people need to understand it this way, just as several other schools have already done.

"If the Athletic Directors went through a public forum and there was not found the needed support for men's track & field, then I would accept their decision," as Mitchell pointed out. "However, at Cincinnati and Miami, for example, they were able to prove their sport's worth and prevent total elimination because they were given a prior chance to save their programs."

Putting the blame on track & field coaches must also be accepted and looked upon, just as Bob Parks earlier stated.

"Coaches have known for years the volatile climate of men's track and field," said Mitchell. "Each coach has a responsibility to shore up their programs to prevent them from being axed. Coaches must think from the point of view of their administrators."

As a recommendation, Mitchell has pointed out some suggestions that some coaches should do to further promote their program and institution, which in the end may just help save the sport.

"Think like football or basketball not like most track coaches. Do you downplay your program by not expecting your athletes, your coaching staff to work and be committed to your sport like these other sports? For you, is winning and losing as important as these other sports?"

Mitchell also pointed out that more track & field coaches could host more home outdoor meets, participate in more scored meets, do not send your athletes away to meets when you are hosting a home meet, get to know your director of minority and gender affairs along with marketing your sport and team because you know that your school's marketing program is not going to help.

Is There an End in Sight?

Unfortunately, it appears that the recent cut to the Marshall program will not be the last in the Mid-American Conference. With the pressure of budget cuts looming over everyone's shoulder, it's just a matter of time before another men's track & field program is cut.

The simple fact remains that the big business of football in the MAC is killing most schools who should not even be competing, perhaps, in Division I-A after all.

Until the administrators and presidents can figure out a way to help stop this trend, don't be surprised if your school is next. If you think your program is secure and know everything, just ask the coaching staff at Marshall. They had to find out by reading the newspaper and hearing the news on their trip in the vans to the Penn Relays.