After the Save Our Sports forum, President Edward Ayers said the Board of Trustees’ decision to eliminate men’s soccer and track and field programs was final and would not be discussed further.
The meeting was held on Sunday at Ukrop Auditorium in Queally Hall for those in opposition of the decision to voice their opinions and to discuss potential alternatives. Every seat in the auditorium was filled, and many were forced to stand in the aisles.
“You heard me say it,” Ayers said. “It is the decision. I appreciate the passion that the students brought to the discussion and I think it was a good thing for us to have done.”
The Save Our Sports forum will not be the last public discussion between members of the university’s administration and the representatives of the men’s soccer and track and field teams, said Houston Oldham, senior men’s soccer team captain.
“It would be naïve to think that the school would reconsider the decision after one meeting,” Oldham said. “I hope this [public discussion] will plant a seed in the community and that, over time, that seed will grow to become something that has to be dealt with by the school.”
Oldham said the ultimate goal was to bring the decision back in front of the Board of Trustees and to reinstate men’s soccer and track and field, along with the addition of another women’s sport.
The Board of Trustees made its decision based upon recommendations from a task force, Ayers said. The task force included twelve members who conducted research into how many and which sports to offer for a healthy Division 1 athletics program at Richmond’s size and selectivity, he said. Its members met for 90 minutes every week for more than a year. The research findings were reported and discussed at five different meetings with the Board over the course of a year, he said.
So far, it has been confirmed that the task force included Athletics Director Jim Miller and Steve Allred, vice president and provost. Two faculty members, political science professor Rick Mayes and music professor Jennifer Cable were also a part of the committee, Chief of Staff Lori Schuyler said.
The Board’s decision will add an additional $100,000 to the university’s remaining Olympic sports budgets, three more full scholarships and more flexibility in roster size, Ayers said.
“It will make better use of our existing facilities by sponsoring a team for which Robins Stadium is an exceptional venue,” Ayers said. “And, do these things without adding university investment in our athletic program, which is already large enough.
“The athletic strategic planning process made clear that some of our sports remain under resourced. They offer a diminished student experience because they do not have what they need including roster space.”
The elimination of men’s track and field specifically adds extra roster space for other teams because its members are the only current athletes at the university who are eligible to compete in three different seasons: cross country, outdoor track and indoor track, Ayers said.
The change will also help to strengthen other teams without the athletic program growing in size, which was one of the major goals of the task force recommendation, Ayers said.
“Robins Stadium is better suited to lacrosse than soccer,” Ayers said, “and the elimination of men’s soccer reduces the need for a dedicated grass facility for which we have neither the space nor the funding.”
The $3 million endowment for lacrosse is the largest for any of the university’s Olympic sports, which means that the athletic department can start this new sport while strengthening others, Ayers said.
The Board’s decision was not based solely upon philanthropy, Ayers said. A decision was not made until the Board members knew they had the financial resources to move forward, which came from dozens of people, he said.
Ayers said the university could not just add sports without eliminating others because student athletes already accounted for 13 percent of each incoming class. This percentage is among the highest of any school that Richmond competes with for students and makes the athletic program look more like that of a large public institution, he said.
“We simply cannot just add sports if we want to remain competitive broadly for students with other talents,” Ayers said.
Leadership studies professor Peter Kaufman moderated Sunday’s forum. When asked why he was chosen as the moderator, he refused to answer.
Kaufman allowed ten attendees to ask questions for Ayers to answer.
Rick Chavez, father of freshman track and field member Jordan Chavez, asked if the research reports prepared by the task force would be made available to the public. Schuyler said that she would be open to presenting some of the research, but most of it was confidential because it included personal student records.
When Mierka Willis, a 2010 graduate, asked Ayers why student government representatives were not included in the decision, he said that the committee had researched every possible scenario. Students had not been a legitimate part of the conversation because of the confidential nature of the information and the task force’s large time commitment, he said.
In response to another question, Ayers said that it would cost $400,000 a year to fund a lacrosse team, not including scholarships. The lacrosse team will offer 8.5 scholarships, and a $20 million endowment is required to start any new sport, he said.
The meeting also included opposition statements from junior Patrick Love, a member of the men’s track and field and cross country teams; junior Alyson McGonigle, a member of the women’s track and field and cross country teams; Michael Stubbs, a 2008 graduate who was on the track and field team; and senior Chris Grover and junior Chris Hoerner, both members of the men’s soccer team. Each of the speeches received standing ovations from the audience.
Love listed the past achievements of the men’s track and field team as he described the betrayal that it felt as a result of the decision. They included 100 individual NCAA national championship qualifiers, 44 NCAA All-Americans, four NCAA national champions, two Olympians and one world record.
“President Ayers – a man well versed in the study and importance of history – shouldn’t this program’s rich past be celebrated by the university instead of destroyed?” Love asked, which resulted in applause from the audience.
The Board’s decision has also affected the morale of the women’s track and field program because both teams train together, McGonigle said, with tears in her eyes.
“This is not just about the women’s track team, but about the women here now and in the future at this university,” McGonigle said. “It is not just about cutting men’s sports, but it is about not creating opportunities for women. One question in my mind and the minds of many others is why the committee did not look to add women’s sports?”
A quality education at Richmond is what taught Stubbs and the current athletes to persevere and to not accept the Board’s decision at face value, he said. He recalled the adversity the track and field team faced during his career with the death of his teammate Ryan Jobes in 2006 and Stubbs’ own lethal heart condition.
“You see we persevere,” Stubbs said. “When someone tells me that my family is being taken away, it hurts, it cuts, it stings, it burns. But, I’ve learned to never give up. We never give up.
“As much pain as this may cause us today, we’ve been through worse and come out better at the end for it. Nobody can look me in the eye and with an ounce of integrity and honesty and tell me that my family does not belong at Richmond.”
Grover said the university decided that men’s soccer and track and field did not belong because all that had mattered was money disguised as philanthropy. Since 1990, 20 universities have cut their soccer programs, but only for budgetary reasons, he said.
Some of these schools include: the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, University of Maryland Eastern Shore, Charleston Southern University and Houston Baptist University, Grover said, as audience members shouted, “Who?”
“Really good company,” Grover said, as he walked off the stage.
Hoerner challenged the legitimacy of the explanation that Miller provided the soccer team when it was told it had been eliminated.
“Mr. Miller made the observation that the men’s soccer program has not achieved much recent success,” Hoerner said. “I would like to draw attention to the fact that a majority of us have never formally met our athletic director. Moreover, a week prior to the start of this season, we were suddenly informed of the resignation of our coach. The question remains: Given this lack of support, how can you expect a high level of success?”
Members of the men’s soccer team collected note cards at the end of the meeting that they distributed to attendees to write questions and comments to be given to Ayers to answer individually.
Contact staff writer Erin Moyer at firstname.lastname@example.org