On Thursday, Nov. 5, Clemson’s Athletic Director Dan Radakovich released a statement announcing that the university had decided to discontinue the men’s track and field and cross country programs following the 2020-2021 academic year. The announcement has left many in disbelief, confusion and anger, as it came out of oblivion. Now, the athletes and many others are unifying and turning to social media and fundraising programs to fight for a reconsideration of the decision.
By all accounts, it was a routine Thursday for the men’s team. The team had the week off of practice but were scheduled to have a weightlifting session at 3 p.m. That session never transpired because a little after noon, the team received a message from the coaches to attend an emergency meeting at the indoor track at 1:45 p.m. That meeting was when Director of Track and Field and Cross Country Mark Elliot informed the team of the decision Radakovich, President Clements and the Board of Trustees made.
At the emergency meeting was the current media representative of the men’s team and active member of the team, Jackson Leech. Leech said his reaction to the announcement was “Disbelief, devastated and emotional.” Leech added that “We were very confused and angry, we asked a lot of questions but couldn’t make sense of things. The coaches found out about an hour before us and were visibly upset.”
As with many facets of life these days, collegiate athletics have suffered a substantial financial loss due to the lockdowns and restrictions from the COVID-19 pandemic. In the statement released by Radakovich, he said that “While this decision comes during the significant financial challenges due to the ongoing pandemic, those challenges are just one of many factors that led to this decision.” Radakovich went on to elaborate that some of those other factors included, “competitive balance, gender equity and Title IX compliance, financial positioning, impact on diversity among student-athletes and staff, and local and national interest and participation in the sport.”
Radakovich also stated that the decision will not be revisited, but despite that comment, members of the men’s and women’s teams have optimism and are still fighting for a reversal of the decision. Since the announcement was made, the men’s and women’s teams have shown incredible initiative and determination by setting up a website, Instagram account, Twitter account and GroupMe all for the sole purpose of raising funds and awareness to reverse the decision. With these avenues of communication, Clemson’s track and field and cross country community are confident they can garner enough support to reinstate the men’s team.
Outside of Clemson, there has been a bombardment of support from athletes and programs across the country. Fellow ACC school, Florida State University, had their track and cross country Instagram account post a video of their coaches showing their support for Clemson’s program, displaying a sense of unity among not just Clemson’s team, but runners across the country.
Although the men’s team will be discontinued, the women’s team will continue to practice and compete, albeit without the support from their male teammates. As a joint group, the women’s distance team said, “This cut is taking away a part of our family. Our success goes hand in hand, when the guys do well we do well. We do everything together, we have the same coaches, we go to the same practices, and it would change everything to not have them there.” For them, this decision is personal, as they also said, “It goes way past the track aspect of it as well, these friendships and bonds are unbreakable and we count on the guys so much.”
Regarding this year’s team, the men are still working tirelessly to compete for ACC titles. Among the men is Samuel Garringer, a freshman runner for the men’s cross country team and distance runner for track. Garringer, along with the other freshman, could be experiencing their first and only year as a member of Clemson track and field and cross country, but they are not letting that fact distract them. Garringer said, “We’re planning on going out and competing like it was any other year. I think I definitely am appreciating practices a lot more. I think we’re on the right track and I think we have the right people helping us to get the team reinstated, but if it doesn’t, it’s going to be my one and only season in a uniform.”
The decision to discontinue the men’s team comes at a time where society is divided over politics, social injustices and a myriad of other issues. The response and support from people of all backgrounds and walks of life displays what was once a familiar concept to many: unity. Clemson athletes have been seen wearing shirts with that same word printed across their chests. The football field in Memorial Stadium has the word painted on the sidelines. Now, the hope for the track and field and cross country teams is that unity will be the exigent factor that will force those in power to reinstate the men’s teams.