I can remember it like it was yesterday.
It was a crisp November afternoon and the fallen leaves were crunching beneath our feet as we made our way down Westham Station.
I was out for a run with fellow Spiders Matt Llano, Jonny Wilson and Tim Quinn. We had just finished a very respectable 8th place at the 2008 NCAA Southeast Regional Cross Country Championships.
Not bad for a team without a dime of scholarship money going up against the likes of perennial distance powerhouses North Carolina State, William & Mary, UVa. and Louisville University, to name a few. Llano had even placed 7th overall, an extremely impressive feat that qualified him for the NCAA Cross Country Championships.
As we settled into our pace, the conversation took a reflective turn as we discussed how our season had turned out. We had finished a disappointing 3rd at the Atlantic-10 Championship meet in a year that was ours for the taking. Though we were happy with our 8th place finish in one of the most competitive regions in the country, we still hadn’t really put Richmond on the map as a national contender.
We were knocking at the door, but what we really wanted was to kick the damn thing down. Llano, Wilson and I were juniors at the time, while Quinn was a sophomore.
We also had some young talent on the team and a few solid recruits joining us. With only one remaining year of eligibility for us juniors, it would be a pretty tall order for a non-scholarship program to jump from 8th to 4th in such a competitive region and to qualify for nationals.
We knew we could compete for a conference championship, but we wanted more. Then the wheels began to turn. Everyone had been thinking it, but finally someone said it, “Hey guys, what if we redshirted and did a 5th year?”
Our run to a 2010 NCAA Cross Country Championship berth, Atlantic-10 Championship and top-25 final ranking all started with a powerful, two-word, thought-provoking question: What if? The road was not easy, and the decision took sacrifice, faith, long-term vision, hard work and, quite frankly, guts. But, it paid off.
Isn’t that what achieving great things is all about? It’s not supposed to be easy. Someone later pointed out to me, “You know, you guys who redshirted could have gone to any school you wanted for that fifth year and run at nationals.”
Really? That idea never even occurred to me. I’m a Spider through and through! Look at what we had helped build! Look at what we had sacrificed! Why would I turn my back on my team, coach and university? That just sounded like a cheap shortcut to me.
As I write this, an alumnus nearly four years from that November run down Westham, I assumed that I would be proudly watching the University of Richmond cross country and track and field program continue to rise.
I even suspected that the university would perhaps reward us with a few athletic scholarships for our recent success. Instead, here I am fighting for the mere existence of my beloved program, asking myself the same question: What if?
What if the University of Richmond chose to be different?
What if the University of Richmond set a precedent by choosing to actually comply with Title IX? What I mean by this is, what if we did what Title IX was originally intended to do: provide equal opportunities for men and women?
What if, in the true spirit of Title IX, the University of Richmond added a women’s crew team along with a men’s lacrosse team? This would not be easy, but it could be done. And it could be great!
Wouldn’t the long-term positives far outweigh the short-term difficulties and overshadow all the negative attention the university has received due to its current decision to cut men’s track and field and soccer?
What if the university community were celebrating the addition of two new athletic programs right now, rather than grieving the loss of three?
What if the University of Richmond refused to follow the trend and distinguished itself from schools that search for loopholes, take shortcuts and consequently eliminate successful athletic programs?
What if the University of Richmond was being nationally recognized and praised as the school that finally got it right?
What if the University of Richmond had the guts to turn this thing around?