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Redefining the Athletics Debate

Guest Column
Ryan Peoples

As yet another cross-country runner who has felt the pinch of MIT’s recent athletic reductions, I had until recently felt resigned to accepting the harsh reality of budgetary limitations. My disgust was largely with the MIT administration for its failure to allocate sufficient funds to the Athletics Department, despite its commitment “to providing extensive competition opportunities.” That was until I read Athletics Director Richard Hill’s column in last Friday’s edition of The Tech [“Justifying Athletics Reductions,” Oct. 15]. Now I can see that the whole situation was just as poorly handled on the Athletic Department’s end of business. Hill’s arguments indicate both failure to understand the consequences of his actions and refusal to entertain the interests of student athletes he supposedly supports.

When the men’s cross-country season began, MIT had placed a cap of 24 runners on the team -- regrettable, but not unreasonable. Then, several weeks after the season had begun, the team was cut to 20, with a limit of 14 for competitions. And that number was trimmed to 12 just days later to keep a second set of seven “junior varsity” athletes from competing. These cuts affected the women’s team in the same way. MIT did not field JV cross-country teams in the 1998-99 academic year, a fact Hill acknowledges. Since the structures of MIT’s programs or collegiate cross-country as a whole have not changed, the extra two men and women cut could not possibly have been due to JV cuts.

I also refuse to believe that the exclusion of these four team members could in any way bring about substantial budgetary relief. On this point, Hill made what I consider to be his most offensive claim. His column began with the assertion that the reductions made were the result of “several years” of planning. The aforementioned in-season cuts and the rapid fashion in which they were made hardly seem indicative of careful “deliberation, planning, and hours of discussion,” let alone years of planning. Hill’s claim to the contrary stands out as a boldfaced lie to me; there appears to be no method to this madness.

By refusing to differentiate between programs when making cutbacks, Hill does MIT’s teams further injustice. Certainly, he must realize that different sports have different procedures and requirements, but the cuts instituted in many ways fail to take this into account. For example, the home course for cross-country races is at Franklin Park in Roxbury. These teams must therefore always travel to compete, and are thus hampered more by across-the-board travel restrictions than most teams, who could have up to half of their contests at home. Undoubtedly, other sports that cannot compete at MIT, such as skiing or golf, would be similarly handicapped in this unfair manner.

Hill goes on to argue that “opportunities for participation in athletics have not been reduced.” This, he says, is achieved through club and intramural sports which “the Institute continues to sponsor.” These statements mean nothing. Where is the continued opportunity to compete in running at MIT? There is no cross-country or any kind of running club at MIT. Maybe the opportunity to participate in some athletic activity will always be available, but that is no substitute for the choice of activities available in the past. As far as club sports go, sure, MIT “sponsors” them, but what exactly does that entail? Apparently not much, as was the case when an athletics trainer showed up at a rugby match (a club sport) several weeks ago to let the players know that participants in club sports are no longer eligible for MIT sports medicine services -- an ethically questionable policy.

Hill completely fails to address the results of these reductions on what remains of MIT’s often already-vaunted varsity programs. The loss of a JV program or the reduction of a team’s practice squad in any sport will unquestionably hurt that team by taking away its depth and ability to develop players for the future. Morale of team members, especially those who can practice but not compete, is devastated. The callous, unapologetic stances of the Department and the Institute, such as the one taken by Hill, only serve to worsen the situation.

I recognize the unfortunate limitations placed on the Athletics Department by the Institute. It is regrettable that the administration is unwilling to fully commit its support to the very same 41 varsity programs of which it loves to boast. In light of the overwhelming student dissent resulting from the athletics cutbacks, however, I find it hard to believe that the reductions made could possibly be the “best attempt” of Hill and others to rectify this situation. How about postponing construction of the huge and undoubtedly expensive new athletics center? I fail to see the need for a new facility to be used by teams that MIT will not fully support, or the place for its cost in a budget that inadequately provides for those teams as is.

Furthermore, if Hill’s arguments in his column are the best justifications he can give for his actions, then it is clear that he fails, as Director of Athletics, to fairly understand and represent the interests of student athletes. I, for one, feel that we would be better served by someone who does.

Ryan Peoples is a member of the Class of 2000.