By Katherine Browning
Last night at 7 p.m., a group of my friends—the 24 men on the PLNU track and field team—walked into Cunningham dining hall with hopes for a successful season, plans for personal records and a commitment to compete for our school.
Half an hour later, they walked out devastated.
Vice President for Student Development Caye Smith and Athletic Director Ethan Hamilton called the meeting to inform the team, along with the women’s softball and men’s golf teams, that their programs will be cut after this year, and a women’s golf team will be added due to Title IX compliance issues.
Athlete gender ratios were cited as the main reason for cutting the programs. The issue began when the softball team lost use of the field in Sunset Cliffs Natural Park last May. Because the team doesn’t have an on-campus facility, the program, one of PLNU’s most successful, is being cut, which upsets the male-female ratio.
According to Smith and Hamilton, the male-female athlete ratio must reflect the male-female ratio of the student body, resulting in men’s programs needing to be cut in order to meet Title IX.
Title IX was passed in 1972 to ensure gender and racial equality in all areas of education, including college athletics. While the federal act covers only schools that receive government funding, California has since passed a similar law, which applies to both public and private institutions, regardless of funding.
The law requires institutions to provide equal opportunities, scholarships, funding and facilities for men’s and women’s sports.
But in recent years, controversy has sparked as to whether the requirements help or hinder college athletic programs.
The issue is not isolated to PLNU. Schools across the nation have made similar program-cutting decisions.
Seton Hall University athletes were stunned last week when their athletic director announced that the men’s and women’s indoor and outdoor track and field programs will be cut after this year, in an effort to “maximize financial resources,” according to the New Jersey Star-Ledger.
The NCAA Division I school has produced 71 All-Americans and seven NCAA champions in the past 38 years under head coach John Moon.
Last February, Quinnipiac University in Connecticut announced plans to cut men’s outdoor track and field, men’s golf and women’s volleyball programs, and add a competitive cheerleading squad.
Three months later, the women’s volleyball team was reinstated following a lawsuit, and the men’s indoor track and field team was cut instead. The school now has 12 women’s sports, but just seven men’s sports.
In November 2008, the University of Delaware cut men’s indoor track and field and added a women’s golf program.
And yesterday, 48 PLNU athletes — 14 women and 34 men — received the same news.
As a female track and field athlete, believe me when I say I’m grateful that Title IX has given me the opportunity to compete at the college level. But I could never condone a law, which, under the guise of “equality,” forces my male teammates to compete elsewhere.
So now, I’m left wondering where all the equality has gone.
Since the day Pasadena College became Point Loma Nazarene and moved onto our current campus, the administration has known the area that would become the softball field was owned by the city. When I wrote about the loss of the softball field last fall, Vice President for External Affairs Joe Watkins told me every effort had been made to find a permanent home for the softball field on or near campus.
But PLNU began using the former softball field in 1978. I have difficulty believing that in the past 32 years, no space for a permanent field could have been found, and I’d like to think that a solution could have been reached that didn’t change the lives of nearly 50 athletes.
My friend Sean Lewis, who chose to compete for PLNU over the University of Oregon — one of the most successful track and field programs in the nation — said the news came as a complete shock.
“I didn’t really think they were going to take away a sport just like that,” said Lewis, a freshman. “It’s heartbreaking.”
But it’s not just about the running for Lewis.
“You do come to a school to compete, but you also come because you love the school,” he said. “You want to be able to be in this environment and compete, and to have half of that taken away is upsetting.”
The move has implications for the women’s squads also.
“That just changes everything,” said freshman Lainie Bird. “It doesn’t change how I feel about running, but it’s taking a part of our team away. It’s going to be weird having just girls.”
Bird’s roommate, freshman Gina Erbacci, agreed.
“My high school teams had separate guys and girls track and field teams,” said Erbacci. “But after coming here, I don’t want to go back to that.”
Sophomore softball player Jessica Tieszen said she feels frustrated and helpless in the situation.
“A huge part of my college experience has been taken away,” said Tieszen. “I wish there was something we could do about it. It’s unfortunate that with cutting softball, because of Title IX, three men’s sports had to be taken down as well.”
Senior track and field athlete Jeremy Davidson said even though he is graduating, he still feels affected by the decision.
“All the opportunities that I’ve had over the last four years, the underclassmen don’t get to have,” said Davidson. “And the whole girls team being out there by themselves seems weird. It doesn’t seem right. It changes the whole dynamic of what a track team stands for.”
So while I’ve been told Title IX is about equality, I’ve seen firsthand the reverse discrimination and ruined opportunities it has brought about. That’s not my kind of equality.
When I made the decision to compete for PLNU, I didn’t do so lightheartedly or on a whim. I know the same is true for my teammates. We made a commitment to work hard, never give up and even make sacrifices in order to best represent our school. But we must have been mistaken in thinking our school would do the same for us.