A big thank you to Coach Forest Braden (the distance coach at William & Mary), Colin Grip (a middle distance runner for W&M) and Spencer Tsai (a team captain and top W&M scorer during XC) for speaking about the recent news of William & Mary cutting their men's indoor and outdoor track teams.
To support the men's track teams at William & Mary,
you can sign their petition which can be found here.
Could you tell us your first thoughts and emotions when hearing that William & Mary was cutting men’s indoor and outdoor track at the end of the 2020-21 academic calendar?
Coach Forest Braden: Very surprising. There was no indication that this was a possibility. We had been assured for months that the athletic department was doing well and that there were no plans to cut sports.
Colin Grip: There was an initial sense of shock. I knew that a lot of programs were getting cut, but I never thought it would happen to our team.
Spencer Tsai: When I heard the news I dropped my phone. I wasn’t even on the Zoom call when they announced it (they didn’t invite half the team), but I was still extremely shocked. Initially I was very angry, then pretty sad. It was a whirlwind for a couple of hours.
Was the men’s team (or coaching staff) given any prior notice that these cuts were coming? If so, what was that conversation like? Was there any feeling that cuts such as this were in play or being considered prior to the ongoing pandemic?
Coach Braden: None. We knew we were in a fairly good place financially because of the support from alumni and our large endowment, coupled with the fact that our operating budget is so small as it is.
Colin: There was no warning at all. I was in class when I got a text from Coach Alex Heacock telling me that I had to get on a Zoom call in about 15 minutes. I had to leave class for the day just to take a seven minute call from the AD and her staff to break the news. I had been concerned about cuts during much of the spring and summer after seeing it happen to other teams, but with our program’s recent and historical success I thought it would be unlikely. On top of that, Our AD repeatedly insisted that no teams would be cut this year, saying so as recently as this summer.
Spencer: There were not many warning signs at all. I knew that in the context of COVID that some programs were under threat of being cut, but I never thought that a program with such history and success would be treated with such a lack of empathy. From what the AD had said prior, no programs were under threat of being cancelled, so I thought that we were safe. The announcement came out of nowhere and it was a pretty terrible shock.
What was your reaction towards hearing the recent news that the University of Minnesota will be cutting their men’s track and field teams following the completion of the 2020-21 academic calendar?
Coach Braden: I was furious. The incompetence of the athletic director (and other top administrators) at Minnesota for allowing the department to get into a $75 million deficit and then try to rectify the situation by cutting three of the lowest budget sports was pretty disgusting. You can see that amateur sports are dying slowly because administrators have made financially poor decisions and have put their athletic departments in fiscally irresponsible positions. To blame the coronavirus is pretty weak. We need more creativity to keep these opportunities available for our young athletes.
Colin: We all really feel for those athletes in Minnesota. From what I have heard, their program was cut in a very similar way to ours. It was a total surprise for everyone involved and donors were denied the chance to raise funds for the team. It hurts to see two programs cut in such a callous and uncaring manner, and I think it is forcing athletes everywhere to question how we are valued by our individual schools and the NCAA as a whole.
Spencer: Hearing that Minnesota was going to cut their team really shocked me. Throughout the last few months I was almost certain that the only teams that could be cut were low to mid-major programs, not any “Power 5” ones. Minnesota is a team with a rich history (two recent Olympians and a legendary coach, among many other talented athletes) and I feel for them. Hearing that your team is cut due to the actions of administrators is hard to hear, but I hope that they fight to reinstate their prestigious team.
The Colonial Relays (hosted by William & Mary) is one of the most popular collegiate outdoor track meets on the east coast. Have there been any conversations in regards to the future of that meet?
Coach Braden: It will be more difficult to host the meet if our staffing issues change very much, but no decisions have been made on the future of Colonial Relays and I am certain we will try to keep it alive if we can!
Colin: As an athlete, I have not heard any talks about the future of Colonial Relays yet. I would imagine that it will be difficult to live up to it’s historic popularity without a men’s team at the school, but only time will tell.
Spencer: I have not heard anything about the plans for Colonials in the future. I hope it remains as competitive and exciting as years past.
Have any men’s athletes begun conversations about transferring / using their eligibility elsewhere?
Coach Braden: We had a really nice group of graduating seniors planning on coming back to finish their fifth and sixth years at W&M, but are obviously now looking elsewhere. I will try to help the student-athletes in whatever way I can find the best place for them to be. If W&M is still that place then I support them 100%, but I have also been taking phone calls and sending emails on behalf of our student-athletes to find them the right home.
Colin: Having already lost at least two seasons to COVID-19, a lot of us are looking to make use of all the eligibility we have left. As a senior, I am lucky that I am still able to graduate this spring and run for W&M, but I no longer have any interest in remaining here post-grad. The underclassmen are faced with the hardest decision of choosing their athletic career, or a degree at the school they chose back in high school. I can’t speak for individuals, but there is a sense of betrayal throughout the team, and a large number of us are looking to continue running at a school that supports us as athletes.
Spencer: After the news broke, guys with extra eligibility started talking about transferring. A lot is still up in the air and people are still making decisions about their future.
How does this decision impact the men’s cross country team (which has not been cut), a historically successful program?
Coach Braden: Anyone who knows about our sport knows that XC and TF are closely connected. Most serious athletes want to race in XC and on the track. You simply cannot recruit at the level needed to be successful at an elite level. The reason I came to coach at W&M is because of this history. I knew that W&M was a place that could get back to the national level where we had been for so long. This really hampers that possibly. There have been a few successful XC only programs throughout the years, but never any having national success.
Colin: It would be naive to think that the cross country won’t suffer from this decision. With so many athletes looking to leave W&M, it may be difficult to even field a team next year. Enticing top high school talent will also be difficult without a track program, and dropping recruiting standards may be the only way to maintain a full roster.
Spencer: This decision will have a pretty adverse effect on the cross team. It’s really hard to recruit guys without a distance track squad, and remaining competitive will be a challenge. It’s not impossible to have success without track, but the W&M AD has made it much tougher for the program to perform at the same level.
Has there been any conversations other than the initial announcement with university leaders responsible for this decision? If so, what have those conversations been like?
Colin: Contact with school leaders has been minimal from my perspective. We were informed of the decision in two different Zoom meetings to accommodate the large number of athletes cut across the seven sports. The AD was present during the first meeting at 3:30, but ended the meeting abruptly before questions could be asked, and she was not present in the second meeting at 4:00. Many student-athletes have tried to ask questions and start a dialogue with athletic department leaders, but are either being sent automated email responses or blocked on social media. Some people have been able to have conversations with staffers of the President’s office, but overall it has been difficult to start conversations and get answers from administrators.
Spencer: Since the announcement of cutting the programs, which lasted just seven minutes over Zoom, there has been little said from the President or the AD. They have remained pretty quiet after the announcement (as we knew they would). I know that many athletes and concerned alum have been emailing the president and the AD, but responses have been brief and tactless.
What are the details surrounding your reinstatement efforts? What steps are being taken and what arguments are being made in order to be reinstated?
Coach Braden: The alumni are organizing and gearing up for a long drawn-out campaign to get the program reinstated.
Colin: There has been a very sudden and very strong response to the announcement by athletes and alumni alike. There has been tons of collaboration between current students like myself and alumni of all ages. I won’t speak in depth about what all of these conversations have looked like, but the bottom line is that we want answers, and we want reinstatement. We had our team taken away from us without the chance to defend it, and we are now trying to take it back.
Spencer: There has been overwhelming support from both the alumni network and the track & field community since we learned of the decision. I cannot express how humbling it has been to see how much this program means to so many people. There is a strong effort to have the program brought back, and it’s going to be a long battle. I know that at the moment we are searching for clarity from the AD and the President, but have yet to receive any.
Any parting words?
Coach Braden: William & Mary has the opportunity to show the rest of the country, and especially mid-majors, how to be creative and do more for student-athletes rather than less. W&M can be a place that puts an emphasis on Olympic sports, it is that kind of institution. The alumni are engaged with their money and their time and there are opportunities in all of those sports to create exciting game-day experiences for fans and student-athletes alike. We can thrive with 23 sports at W&M, but we need to think outside of the box to figure it out. The excessive spending we see at college athletic departments throughout the country is unsustainable, we need a new model and W&M could be the place to figure that out.
We also really need the governing bodies and powerful organizations in our sport -- the USTFCCCA, USATF and USOC -- to step up and collaborate on ways to save collegiate track and field. We all have a vested interest in seeing this sport thrive rather than slowly die.
Colin: Within a seven minute Zoom call, I went from 100% confidence in my team’s status at William & Mary to having to rethink what the next few years of my life will look like. Students and coaches were given this news as a surprise, and given reasoning that was not backed up by the data. To those who don’t know better, our sport is seen as expendable. It is seen as the simple act of running, throwing, or jumping, with no real strategy or skill. But we know it is deeper than that. It’s the ferocity of a sport with no time-outs. It’s the unity between a men’s team and a women’s team. It’s the camaraderie between teammates of all different backgrounds. Athletes around the country are being told that our sport doesn’t matter, and that we are expendable. We are more than an expense on a budget. We are student-athletes, and any school that can’t see that is wrong.
Spencer: I want to thank The Stride Report for taking the time and setting up an interview for us. It is important that people hear what it’s like to have their program taken away in a seven minute Zoom call. I want to say how much of a privilege it has been to be a part of the Tribe in my collegiate career, and I am extremely saddened by the thoughtless decision to cut our program. That isn’t to say that I am going to give up the fight for our reinstatement, because I won’t. Track and field is more than a dollar value, it’s a family. It’s a community. I hope that whoever reads this realizes that the actions of an inept few (Administrators) has a huge impact on many. Thank you.
To support the men's track teams at William & Mary,
you can sign their petition which can be found here.