Inside the Sophisticated Campaign to Save Men’s Running at Brown

Brown, despite outrage from other student-athletes, is still planning to demote eight teams to club status: fencing, golf and squash for both men and women, as well as women’s equestrian and women’s skiing. Two club teams, coed sailing and women’s sailing, will become varsity sports.

Brown’s president, Christina H. Paxson, declined to be interviewed. A Brown spokesman, Brian E. Clark, said university officials were “not surprised by the campaign that emerged.”

“What we did not fully appreciate until hearing from our community was the transformative impact of varsity track and field and cross-country on the lives and the experiences of students,” he said.

Other colleges have shuttered teams during the pandemic. Among them, Akron cut men’s cross-country, men’s golf and women’s tennis; Furman closed down baseball and lacrosse; and East Carolina eliminated its tennis, swimming and diving teams.

Brown, though, has been weighing the size of its athletic program — among the nation’s largest, in terms of the number of teams — for years, recently with help from outside consultants.

Although the university declined to release its advisers’ findings, it said they thought the number of teams hurt Brown’s ability to be competitive in each sport. In secret, university leaders and a handful of Brown supporters considered a path forward.

Then, on May 28, the university told athletes that some teams would move to club status.

The pandemic’s financial effects, Brown officials insisted, were not a factor. Instead, they argued the move would let the university devote greater resources to the sports that remained. The men’s running teams were cut to remain in compliance with Title IX, the gender-equity law, and a legal settlement specific to Brown.

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