Former Akron runners trying to save Cross Country

Group says they can fund the program for nearly a decade
Published: May. 22, 2020 at 2:56 PM EDT
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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - If the school cannot afford it, we can. That is the position of a group of people saying they can pay for the Akron men’s cross country team. Men’s cross country was one of three programs, along with men’s golf and women’s tennis, cut by the school last week.

“The money came from former runners, alumni, mostly of the university and of the cross country and track program,” said J.T. Olson, a former Akron cross country runner. “Also from other people around northeast Ohio and even some people that do not even live in Ohio that heard of this story and felt it was an important thing to try to save.”

Olson says the program only needs around $7,900 annually to function and that they have already raised more than ten times that amount. Cross country scholarships are under the umbrella of track and field. There are 12.6 track scholarships, but only 1.2 of those are dedicated to cross country. That 1.2 is usually divided up among the 12 cross country runners, meaning they are each still paying about 90% of their tuition.

Olson’s group took their plan to the university. The school rejected the idea, saying Title IX would also come into play. They are not convinced. “You can add some women to the track team, you can add some women to the cross country team. You could limit the size of the track or cross country rosters by a little bit more to balance out those numbers," said Olson. "This is not something that is out of left field, it is something that universities do all the time.”

19 News contacted the University of Akron about Olson’s doubts on the Title IX issue. Athletic Director Larry Williams responded with a statement- “In many circumstances the Athletics Department must treat all of our programs as a collective. Unfortunately, the redesign of the Department to better fit our resources does not allow the three programs to be a part of that collective.”

The school says cutting men’s cross country and golf, along with women’s tennis, is part of a series of cost cutting measures that will save the school around $4.4 million. Future cuts in scholarships, staffing and operating costs are also part of that figure. Those reductions have not been announced yet, but will be before June 30th.

The school has the final say, and their decision has been made. That does not mean Olson and his group are going away. “We are continuing to consult with people around the country who understand Title IX to show that there are ways to be compliant without cutting men’s cross country,” he said. “We are also pushing forward to show the athletic department that cutting cross country has major ramifications for the storied track and field program at Akron.”

Clayton Murphy, a former Akron runner who was a bronze medal winner in the 2016 Olympic games in the 800 meters is also heavily involved in this effort.

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