PRESS BOX: Men’s and women’s track & field, cross country should not be nixed

Illustration by Lauren Johnson

Ryan Grube, Contributing Writer

The College of William & Mary is the latest school to drop fall sporting competitions due to COVID-19, announcing the elimination of seven sports, including men’s indoor and outdoor track and field, on Sept. 3 — VCU should not make the same mistake. The school, and its athletes, should fight to keep the men’s and women’s track and field, and cross country seasons alive going forward.

The domino effect of sports cancellations in March effectively ended the season for spring sports at VCU, including men’s and women’s track and field. As the coronavirus progressively worsened into the summer, an important training period for fall athletes, the Atlantic 10 had a tough decision to make. 

League commissioner Bernadette McGlade announced on July 17 that fall sports competitions would be postponed with the hope of reinstating seasons in the spring 2021 semester.

But, as fewer sports have been in session, resulting in a massive revenue decline for universities, many schools have been forced to permanently eliminate certain competitions — a popular combination being track and field and cross country.

According to VCU’s online COVID-19 dashboard, the university’s athletic department recently reported a cluster of 44 positive coronavirus cases among its athletes and coaches on Aug. 26. The Commonwealth Times first reported the large number on Aug. 26, which could have led to more discussions about season shutdowns.

Prior to cutting seven sports, William & Mary competed in 19 sports with 617 student athletes. VCU, on the other hand, competes in 12 sports with 373 student athletes.

VCU currently enrolls more than 31,000 students, compared to just 8,617 on the Tribe’s campus. Both are Division 1 schools, but discontinuing sports like track and field and cross country would undoubtedly carry a much larger magnitude on the Rams’ campus.  

Both VCU teams, supporting young rosters, experienced positive conclusions to their respective schedules, leading to a number of postseason accolades that prompted optimism heading into the 2020-21 seasons. 

Junior Hisham Vohra placed 12th at the 2019 A-10 Cross Country Championships to earn all-conference honors. His finish was the highest by a VCU men’s competitor since Bryce Catlett’s 12th-place finish at the 2017 meet.

Catlett said each team creates a bond, and teammates are able to use each other to improve.

 “You just gotta continue to motivate one another, and use that to push off and support each other — whether it’s in the workouts or in the races,” Catlett said. “Just knowing that you have teammates to fall back on, and they’re there to support you.”

On the track and field side, seven team members — five women, two men — were selected to the Atlantic 10 all-rookie teams, the conference announced on March 23.

Freshman triple jumper Raquel Hawkins earned four top-five finishes and recorded 12.18 meters –– the top mark for all A-10 freshmen last season. Thrower Jocelyn Midkiff also notched a conference-best toss for freshmen in the shot put at 13.18 meters.

To cancel future seasons for these competitions would take away a lot of young promise on both rosters and would certainly receive some drawback from the athletes, who have worked hard to get where they are. 

With the cross country season likely being moved to next spring, the A-10 will have to work to create a schedule without overlap between the two sports.  

VCU Athletics Director Ed McLaughlin told NBC12 in April, “Cutting sports has never been a question, never been a consideration, nor will it be going forward for us.”

The black and gold should maintain its status quo with track and field and cross country. The men’s and women’s teams have too much young talent on each roster for the university to turn its back on it all.   

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