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The coronavirus pandemic has taken a toll on sports programs throughout the country and the world. Some of the smaller, nonprofit programs will not live to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Last week, Clemson announced it’s cutting men’s cross country as well as indoor and outdoor track, effective June 2021. The Tigers are the first program in a Power Five conference to cut all three sports this year.

Clemson athletic director Dan Radakovich cited the financial strain from the pandemic as one of, but not the only, reason for the move. Radakovich said the school’s athletic department is expecting a $25 million “resource shortfall” this year and cutting the programs will save the school $2 million annually.

According to a 2019 Forbes story, the football program has an annual revenue of $77 million.

Radakovich said other factors contributing to the decision were “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.” In other words, the move allows the school to save money while making it easier to comply with Title IX rules.

In an effort to seemingly quell any notion of a reversal, as happened at William & Mary and Minnesota earlier this year, Radakovich noted that “the decision is final.”

Clemson will still honor the scholarships of affected student-athletes, who also will receive assistance if they choose to transfer. Coaching contracts will also be honored.

All three programs have been among the most consistent at the school. The indoor program has had 12 different NCAA champions and 115 All-Americans, and the outdoor team has racked up three NCAA champs and 182 All-Americans.

Clemson has not failed to have an All-America performer in either cross country, indoor or outdoor track since 1985, and the programs have turned out 22 Olympians and five gold medalists.

Clemson also has one of the best indoor and outdoor facilities in the country. The Rock Norman Track & Field outdoor facility is 10 lanes and has jump pits that were just redone in 2009. The $3.6 million indoor facility opened in December 2003.

The track is located adjacent to the Rock Norman Outdoor Track Complex. The facility contains a 200-meter Mondo track with an eight-lane (44-inch) straightaway and a six-lane oval with a 73-foot radius.

In the infield, the facility features one high-jump apron, two pole-vault runways and two long- and triple- jump runways. A permanent throwing cage is outside the track for the weight throw and shot put. The facility also includes an athletic training room, seating for 1,800 spectators, restroom and concession facilities.

THE REACTION

Within hours of the announcement, a petition went online to help save the programs. As of Thursday, it had more than 27,000 signatures.

“It’s disappointing for a Power 5 school like (Clemson) to cut the program,” former Clemson runner and Olympic marathon trials qualifier James Quattlebaum said. “I know it gave a lot of people opportunities that they wouldn’t have had otherwise. It was an especially bad decision because they cut so many opportunities for minorities or people who couldn’t afford to go to college without scholarship.

“There were a lot of people from around the world when I was there such as Jamaicans and South Africans who did not have the resources to go to college without scholarship. ... I’m sure all of the coaching staff is affected, but especially the head coach Mark Elliot, who is originally from Jamaica. I know without schools like Clemson who offered him a scholarship (LSU), he would have never been able to compete or coach.”

Mark Block coached at East Tennessee State from 1988 to 1989 and at Clemson from 1989 to 1993.

“When I first heard about it, I was completely shocked and I still can’t figure it out,” Block said. “From what I’ve read, cutting the program saves them about 2.5% and that seems a little high, but it’s not going to make that much of a difference. I penned a letter to the president and to the board saying that if they took a closer look at the huge athletic budget that they have, they could find ways to trim the fat instead of having to cut the entire program.

“If I was coaching at a school like Clemson, I’d be scared to death. This opens the floodgates for everybody else. With that nice new facility they have, they could host a meet every weekend, whether it be high school or college and not travel anywhere until ACCs or NCAAs.”

ETSU coach George Watts, who ran at Tennessee, has been coaching for the better part of 30 years at multiple schools.

“I’m sure that everyone has already said what I am going to, but I was really shocked,” Watts said. “The diversity of the sport is hurt when you take away programs. Your body type really doesn’t matter in order to be successful in track. In high school, outdoor track is one of the highest in terms of number of participants in the country. When you cut programs, that just cuts out opportunities for the kids.”

Chris Layne has led Milligan’s cross country and track programs for more than 20 years.

“When I first heard the news as an outsider, it was disappointing,” Layne said. “Clemson is one of the most productive generators of revenue in the country, which makes cutting a program like track or cross country both sad and frustrating.

“The message that the Clemson AD is sending is that it is OK to cut programs like that and it sets a bad precedent. It also chips away at the foundation of the sport, which is never a good thing.”

Dobyns-Bennett coach Bob Bingham has been part of local track and field for over 30 years.

“It’s really kind of scary because that means if Clemson can cut it, anybody can,” Bingham said. “They have all the money in the world and they just upgraded the football facility a few years ago. It really just shocked me.”

Len Jeffers has sent several athletes from distance running powerhouse Daniel Boone to the next level over the past decade.

“It is sad, but I feel really bad for the kids,” Jeffers said. “We haven’t had a kid go to Clemson, but I can’t imagine having to field calls from kids asking what they should do.

“The silver lining in this whole situation is that it ends up being good for small private schools like Milligan that don’t have football. If you sign on with a big conference school, the next 12 months are uncertain, but at smaller programs, they’re a little more sturdy.”

Quattlebaum said, “Clemson track gave me the opportunity and tools to succeed in life. It also helped me learn a lot that is not taught in the classroom. I made so many friendships and connections. Some of the opportunities and people at Clemson, I took for granted. Being out now, I realize how lucky I was to run for Clemson and for all the great support I had, especially my trainers and coaches.”

You can reach Tanner by email at tcook@timesnews.net.

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