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Vermont's track heritage victim of bad choices
By Jeff Hollobaugh
Special to ESPN.com
They celebrated a big one in the Green Mountains this year, the 100th anniversary of track and field at the University of Vermont.
At the America East meet, Jeff Guilmette won his eighth conference title in the shot with a meet record toss of 56 feet, five inches. Reason to celebrate? Not really.
There will be no 101st anniversary for the Catamounts, at least for the men's side of the program (since the advent of women's track, the men's and women's programs have been combined). On Sept. 13, the university announced it would eliminate men's track.
The cut was part of the elimination of five sports as part of a budget trimming. The university never acknowledged that Title IX might be involved. Instead, officials said they wanted to focus more of their limited scholarship money on revenue sports. They said they would save $350,000 over three years, but after factoring in the loss of NCAA funds, the university only saves a meager $49,000 a year.
One would have thought that bright times were ahead. The university is targeting sports donors as part of a $200 million fund-raising drive and reportedly $25 million will be set aside for sports. So why make the cuts? Whatever the reason, it hardly seems worth throwing out 100 years of history.
Why couldn't Vermont follow the lead of New Hampshire? When faced with a financial crisis two years ago, that university focused on first-time donors to generate $500,000 for the track program in six months.
Ed Kusiak, who has coached the Vermont program for 35 years, was stunned by the decision. "I was not given the courtesy to defend my program before the committee that eventually decided our fate," he wrote on a Web site devoted to the fight to save the team.
Since Kusiak's salary will still be paid as he coaches the women's team, one has to wonder why opportunity has to be denied to the men. After all, team backers are saying it would cost less than $10,000 annually to continue running the men's program. Much more than that amount will be lost if just one walk-on track athlete decides to run track at some other college. The math just doesn't make the decision of the officials look good.
According to Pat Garrity of the Burlington Free Press, the Cats took a lap around the track at the conclusion of the America East meet, while their former opponents gave them a standing ovation. That they earned; it's a shame they don't have the respect of their own administrators.
Some have made Title IX the villain here. Yet that is not clearly the case. After all, women's volleyball was dropped, also. Rather, this seems to be about revenue sports versus nonrevenue sports, and a university that has turned its back on its longtime commitment to provide equal opportunity to the residents of its state.
Kusiak recruited primarily from Vermont. His program provided real opportunities for men and women. Now he has only the women left, and I imagine they'll be struggling for years to find a bright side to this.
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On the women's side, Barton County defeated Central Arizona with a slimmer 26.5-point margin. Veronica Campbell of Jamaica, the double world junior sprint champ of 2000, led a 1-2-3 Cougar sweep in the 200 with a 22.38 (and 11.17 in the 100). Yuliana Perez (formerly of Cuba) tripled 46-9 windy. Hyleas Fountain, a freshman from Pennsylvania, amazed by scoring 5,673 in the heptathlon, a mark that establishes her as a world-class prospect in the seven-event contest.
Michigan won the women's Big 10 title, but the big shocker came from Indiana's Danielle Carruthers, who hammered a 12.68 in the 100 hurdles. "I just really wanted to go out there and run my own race," she said. Michigan's key wins came from Rachel Sturtz (2:07.45 in the 800), Vera Simms (58.50 in the hurdles) and Katy Jazwinski (16:32.60 in the 5,000).
Jeff Hollobaugh, former managing editor of Track and Field News, is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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