After Roger Bannister ran history's first ever sub four minute mile he was quoted as saying "Apres moi le deluge". By this he meant that once someone had indeed broken that seemingly unbreakable time barrier, proving that it was humanly possible, there would be a flood of individuals that would follow in his footsteps. Bannister was correct in that statement because in the two years following his historic run more than 50 runners ran sub four minute miles.
I didn't bring this fact up to emphasize the importance of believing that barriers can be overcome, though this is a very important belief, particularly for athletes. I'm more interested in reflecting on the fact that Bannister knew that people were going to follow in his footsteps because he did the hard part of opening the door.
This fall the University of Vermont helped to open the door for other Division I Universities to make cuts to their athletic programs, dropping 5 varsity sports, men's indoor and outdoor track and field, men's and women's gymnastics, and women's volleyball. This past week (3/10-3/16/02) was not a good one for athletics, particularly Men's Track and Field once again, as two more major universities announced cuts in athletics.
The University of Massachusetts Amherst announced that it would be eliminating seven of it's varsity teams in order to counter act the $17 million dollars the school will lose because of state budget cuts. Women's volleyball, men's and women's water polo, men's and women's gymnastics, men's tennis and men's indoor track will be cut at the end of this school year to save $1.1 million.
Tulane University also announced this week that it would not continue their men's indoor and outdoor track and field programs after this year. This announcement came after head coach Ron Bazil's announcement that he would retire after this year. Unlike UMass, the cuts at Tulane were made because of problems existing within gender equity. Currently 51 percent of Tulane students are female, while 68 percent of its athletes are male. Federal Title IX legislation passed in 1975 states that schools must provide participation opportunities for women and men that are substantially proportionate to their respective rates of enrollment of full-time undergraduate students.
Though the cuts at both UMass and Tulane were undoubtedly difficult decisions to make, they are certainly defensible. It is in this area where these schools differ from the University of Vermont. In the news releases from UVM that seek to explain the cuts, there were issues such as budget difficulties and gender equity that came into the discussion. However, when juxtaposed with the situations at the other schools the cuts at UVM don't hold water. Financially, UVM is in trouble. The school faces each year with a budget too small to cover their costs in more areas than just athletics. However, the cuts which were made in the Athletic department will save the University less than $50,000, a year of tuition from two out of state students will garner the university more than that amount. If saving money isn't the goal than possibly it's gender equity? Before the September 13th cuts were made the numbers in UVM's athletic department were 47.80% male and 52.20% female, compared to a student body of 44.4% male and 55.6% female. Post cuts, the numbers are 44.23% male and 55.7% female, the large drop in the men's percentage points can be greatly attributed to the fact that men's indoor and outdoor track and field members were counted twice even though they are the same athletes. Even before the cuts, UVM wasn't far from having an equitable Athletics program, when compared with the numbers at Tulane they look positively golden.
So even though UVM led the charge in making athletic cuts, their justifications for doing so are not nearly as convincing as some of the schools that have followed their lead. Let's hope that UVM accomplished more than just providing a handy example for other schools to point to when they were making cuts. Let's also hope that this particular deluge can be dammed up before it washes away any more programs where dedicated athletes can participate in the sports they love.