Tuesday, February 6, 2007

A letter from Elmore Banton, the Greatest Bobcat Runner and Coach Ever

From the Athens News:

Reader's Forum: Open letter to the OU community

By Elmore Banton
Monday, February 5th, 2007

One of the proudest days of my life was the day I became head coach of the men's track and field program at Ohio University. By contrast, Jan. 25, 2007 was one of the saddest days in my life, when the announcement came that the university was cutting women's lacrosse, men's swimming, and of course, men's track and field.

As a former athlete and coach, I am devastated over the elimination of these sports. I know that President Roderick McDavis and athletics director Kirby Hocutt inherited most of the problems that led to the cuts. My concern is that steps taken to resolve the situation did not involve enough in-depth problem solving. To my way of thinking, there are different approaches that could have been taken to cut the deficit while not harming diversity in the athletics department and in the university that we prize.

In Mr. Hocutt's statement to the press, he gave the reasons for the cuts as a need to honor the Title IX directives and to respond to the fiscal deficit. One way of solving the Title IX issue is to cut men's indoor track (yes, I am willing to give up indoor track in order to keep outdoor and the other two sports), and by adding 10-12 roster spots to the women's track, women's swimming and women's lacrosse. This measure or some tweaking of this idea would get to the numbers for gender equity. Did the committee ever consider this? The problem of gender equity can be readily solved.

The financial deficit is a much larger and more complicated problem to solve, but if we want to keep the prestige of the university and preserve our tradition of caring about our student athletes, we must spend time working on the problem rather than using the cut-and-run techniques that have so far been employed.

According to last year's NCAA report, OU spends $491 per track athlete per year, $10,000 per football athlete per year, and $22,000 per basketball athlete per year. Central Michigan, winner of this year's MAC in football, spends $4,000 per football athlete per year. In fact, six schools in the MAC spend less than $6,000 per football athlete per year.

In addition, the OU football program had a $1.9 million deficit and basketball had a $331,000 deficit last year. To anyone looking at these figures, it might appear that we are attacking the wrong animals. The cows have gotten too big for the barn, so we are throwing out the chickens instead of putting the cows on a diet.

Did the committee in its long study of the problem of the deficit ever consider any of the following ways to solve the problem?

* Cut the athletics budget.

* Make use of the Bobcat funds.

* Reach out to all athletic alumni for donations for a set number of years (we do it for everything else).

* When positions need to be filled in the athletics department, delay hiring for six months and use the money for the deficit.

* Stop paying replacement staff as much or more than their predecessors.

* Ask for help from the Student Senate (you never know what they can do).

I understand that the athletics department is looking into building a new indoor facility. It is amazing that we are cutting programs on the one hand and thinking of building a new facility on the other. I know that private money will be used, but why not use private money to save these programs!

I am asking the university to delay the action so that the athletics department can leave no stone unturned in an all-out effort to save these traditional programs that mean so much to our alumni and student athletes.

Dr. McDavis has said that this action is final. The only thing in life that's final is when the good Lord calls you home. Anything done by man can be undone. If the university does not reconsider this position, it means that a university that once was so proud of its student athletes no longer cares. If indeed, this action is final, this Bobcat will never bleed green again.

Editor's note: Elmore Banton is a retired Ohio University track and cross-country coach. He won the NCAA cross-country title as a Bobcat in 1964.

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