CCU makes tough call in face of budget cuts, gender equity

Coastal Carolina’s decision to cut men’s track and field and cross country after next season may have come as a surprise to those who follow the Chants.

After all, almost every announcement over the past decade has been about growth – an upstart football program, a new arena and other facilities, and even a new women’s lacrosse program. And, truth be told, all of those play a small role in the decision.

But it’s really not shocking if you know the economics and politics behind the move. The 1-2 punch of gender equity and budget cuts are ultimately to blame for the heart-wrenching decision to knock out two men’s, non-revenue sports.

The downsizing can be traced back to 2003, when Coastal added football and 85 scholarships exclusively for male student-athletes. That tipped the gender-equity balance way out of whack, which is a big reason women’s lacrosse was added this school year.

But that was before the mandated $1 million in budget cuts, with $250,000 slated to come from athletics. Rest assured that a project like the new $35 million HTC Center or the current renovations of the baseball and softball complex wouldn’t have been approved in the current economic climate.

Coastal athletics director Hunter Yurachek faced the difficult decision to trim a significant portion from the budget of all 18 sports, but all that does is weaken Coastal’s athletic brand as a whole. Sacrificing two for the good of 16 was the lesser of two evils.

Unfortunately the price is being paid by a handful of male student-athletes who train just as hard, if not harder than, their counterparts in other sports. Their scholarships will be honored, as they should, and they will have the opportunity to transfer without penalty.

As bad luck would have it, the men’s track and field program was gaining national attention and coming off a strong showing at the Penn Relays. The timing of the decision wasn’t made any easier with the recent news that new women’s basketball coach Jaida Williams signed a five-year contract worth $675,000 (see “gender equity).

By pinning the blame on budget cuts and gender equity, that doesn’t necessarily say I disagree with them. Females should have the same opportunities to use publicly funded scholarships, and athletics should be fair game whenever a university faces budget reductions.

Was it fair to the athletes involved? Absolutely not. But was it the best move to keep Coastal athletics both competitive and in compliance? Absolutely.

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