Garrett Zatlin: Why Clemson's About Face Set A Precedent

By Garrett Zatlin - MileSplit Recruiting Correspondent

On Thursday, Clemson University's athletic department made an announcement that many track and field fans had been hoping for all along: The Tiger's men's cross country and track programs would not be cut, after all.

The monumental decision came five months after the university declared that it would be eliminating its men's cross country and track programs at the conclusion of the 2020-2021 academic calendar year, citing financial strain stemming from the pandemic.

However, in Clemson's reinstatement announcement, the university noted how "revised financial projections," while challenging, weren't as significant as initially expected. 

Instead, the Clemson Athletic Department will add an additional women's varsity sport to continue their "commitment to gender equity."

The decision to reinstate Clemson's running programs seemed unlikely. The university had held firm on their decision  over the last five months despite significant opposition and heavy campaigning from athletes and advocates of the program, alike.

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Clemson reinstates planned cuts to men's track and field and cross country programs

Despite the lack of progress, the university eventually opted to reinstate their track and cross country programs, a decision which could act as the final message to athletic departments around the country that track and cross country programs are off the table when it comes to halting varsity sponsorship.

Russell Dinkins, a collegiate track and field advocate who played an integral role in William & Mary and Brown University reinstating their track programs, also spearheaded many efforts to reinstate Clemson's teams. 

Of course, Dinkins has done more than just raise picket signs and organize marches. 

The former Princeton track runner has often argued that collegiate track and field programs offer the greatest opportunities for athletes of various socio-economic backgrounds. In fact, Dinkins even went as far as filing a complaint to the Department of Education, citing that the elimination of Clemson's track and field programs contributed to illegal racial discrimination.

Similar arguments have been utilized by Dinkins in the past.

Brown University President Christina Paxson noted in her reinstatement announcement that the permanent elimination of their track and cross country programs would have "lasting implications for efforts to build and sustain diverse and inclusive communities."

Despite the pandemic supposedly causing financial strain, recent emphasis on social justice initiatives have now forced universities to reevaluate their decisions to eliminate programs whose demographics lessen racial disparity on campuses. 

With an additional caveat of trying to balance aspects of Title IX, the idea of cutting varsity sports becomes an even greater challenge for college administrators around the nation.

The reinstatement of Brown University's programs certainly sparked hope that other teams could be saved, but the two other examples of William & Mary and Minnesota reinstating their programs after rash decisions also established a trend.

With an athletic department as big as Clemson's deciding to turn face -- as well as avoiding potential Title IX lawsuits -- one could argue that a precedent has now been set for collegiate athletics: While cutting track and field programs for big-time colleges might make short-term financial sense, the social and economic impacts are often just as important and relevant, and they must be considered when weighing those decisions.