Cook: 4 ways UTC can save men's track and field

David Cook
photo David Cook

Earlier this week, professor emeritus Dr. Leroy Fanning met with University of Tennessee at Chattanooga officials with a plan to save men's track and field.

Several plans, actually.

In January, UTC said it was cutting men's track and field to meet Title IX requirements. UTC has a top-heavy ratio of male-to-female athletes, with 211 male athletes compared to 145 females.

This puts UTC at the unfortunate gender disparity of 14.7 percent.

Remember that number.

Also remember that of the 211 male athletes, 113 of them belong to the football and wrestling teams, for which there are no female counterpart sports.

Since UTC's announcement, the running community has rallied - speaking with Title IX scholars, civil rights experts and attorneys - while also creating a menu of possible solutions - which Fanning presented Tuesday - on how to save men's track and field.

Solution 1: Roster management.

By gently skimming only a handful of male athletes from several different sports, UTC could reduce male numbers without such a gut-punch to men's indoor track.

Football loses two players - from 97 to 95.

Wrestling loses six - from 36 to 30.

Men's basketball goes from 15 to 14.

Men's tennis, from 11 to 10.

Men's cross country, from 10 to 9.

Such gentle cuts would reduce gender disparity from 14.7 to 13.4 percent - not the whole hog, but a step closer - while saving $65,000.

Solution 2: Cut men's indoor - not outdoor - track.

Also cut two football players, one basketballer, two wrestlers, one tennis player and one cross country runner.

The plan also calls for adding seven more runners to the women's running teams, which would reduce gender disparity to 10.7 percent, a number that UTC officials have already said is a desirable goal.

Solution 3: Add sand volleyball.

The NCAA has recognized sand volleyball as an official and emerging sport for women.

Adding it at UTC immediately adds 17 new female student-athletes. Cut a total of four roster spots from male sports, add seven new spots to women's running, and disparity drops to 10.4 percent.

Solution 4: Alumni fundraising.

Cut a handful of roster spots from male teams, and add 20 spots to women's indoor and outdoor track.

Disparity drops to 10.2 percent.

Doing so would cost an estimated $117,600, an amount runners say has already been pledged - and then some - from supporters and alums.

Damian Walsh, a former runner and leader in the effort to save men's track, said "$150,000 over five years is enough to fund the 10 extra women on the team for 10 years."

Shortly after the proposal, Chancellor Steve Angle responded in a letter. It seems he remains unmoved.

"We have taken the best course of action for our university," he wrote.

Angle said UTC would cut men's indoor and outdoor track, while raising funds to add female roster spots to existing teams. Plus, UTC will aim for a gender disparity rate not of 10 percent, but something much lower.

"Closer to 5 percent in the next three to five years," he said.

Five percent?

Other comparable schools don't meet a 5 percent disparity rate, according to documents from Walsh.

Florida A&M has a current rate of 20.3 percent.

Appalachian State? It's at 11.6 percent. Louisiana Tech? Western Carolina? Both have disparities of 10.5 percent. Sam Houston State's at 17 percent.

"I called the office of civil rights," said Amanda Tate, a well-known running alum. "They told me most schools do not comply by meeting the ratio."

Tate said gender ratio and disparity rates are not the only way to comply with Title IX. In fact, it's perhaps the most difficult way, especially in schools that have football and wrestling, as UTC does, since there is no equivalent for women.

Some runners are beginning to question whether Title IX is the true motive behind this.

How much are peripheral issues - rape accusations, sexual discrimination allegations - affecting this decision? Is men's track being sacrificed to Title IX to make up for other UTC shortcomings?

Why are wrestling and football so untouchable? Why does UTC refuse to shave roster spots from those teams in order to keep men's track, which is the epitome of student-athlete achievement? How does the university really feel about coach Bill Gautier?

"I think this is a coup to get Coach Gautier," said Tate.

Runners promise to keep fighting. Walsh also said attorneys are finalizing their plans to take legal action against the university.

"Chancellor Angle has been absolute class and character through this process, but I just can't say the same for the people he is relying on to carry out this very delicate matter," Walsh said.

Contact David Cook at dcook@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook at DavidCook TFP.