Battle continues to save UTC Men's Track & Field program - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

Battle continues to save UTC Men's Track & Field program

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CHATTANOOGA, TN (WRCB) - UPDATE:  Sporting neon t-shirts that read “Back Chatt Track” current and former UTC track athletes along with supporters packed a room Tuesday with questions and ideas ready for Athletic Directors David Blackburn and Laura Herron.

“Is there any way we could talk with [the coach] and see if he would be up for the challenge of only six more athletes to handle?” Senior track runner Patrick O'Brien asked.

They battled over funding, adding female athletes and the decision over cutting the men's program. But ultimately Blackburn had the final say: The university had to comply with Title IX standards.

“The intent [of Title IX] was not to hurt someone, the intent was to help people,” Blackburn said.

Blackburn says he chose not to discuss the issue with anyone prior to the decision because nothing could fix the problem in three months.

Something O'Brien says the team's coach didn't even see coming.

“He's been here for 23 years and he didn't even know that we were facing these kinds of issues and that it was something that was even remotely possible that would be cut,” O'Brien said.

Many like former UTC track runner Kevin Huwe say it felt like Blackburn wasn't budging on the decision rather than look at the numbers as a whole.

“Ultimately it just has to be a full honest dissection of the numbers in an open forum or debate where you can formally scrutinize the numbers and work through different options,” Huwe said.

To find an option that leaves both sides in the balance.

Both current and former track members tell Channel 3 they aren't done with this fight and say they plan on taking the issue as far as they need to.

A group of student athletes, alumni and community supporters are trying to find a way to save the UTC men's track and field team.

The university announced this would be its final season, citing Title IX regulations are forcing them to make cutbacks.

"We think we deserve a chance to defend and work through options we come up with," said track athlete Patrick O'Brien
     
Without warning, senior Patrick O'Brien learned he was going to be one of the final athletes for UTC's men's track and field.

"To be a group of guys that we feel take the student and the athlete part as far as we can, to excel at both for UTC, we felt sad. Hurt."

O'Brien also happens to have the highest GPA out of all UTC student athletes with a 4.0.
     
This week's homework was to find a way to save his team.
     
O'Brien created an online petition that now has more than 2,000 signatures, all encouraging the school to find a different way to meet it's title 9 requirements.

"You know maybe fund-raise to add more women's members to a bunch of the women's team," O'Brien said, "To kind of help the participant-ratio, or any solution."
    
Head Coach Bill Gautier says he's proud his athletes are speaking their minds, and admits the cuts would make it hard to recruit top runners to UTC in the future.

"There are other avenues I believe can be addressed to the Chancellor and the Athletic Director," Gautier said, "This all came about so quick that they didn't really have time to prepare anything beforehand."
     
During his announcement, Athletic Director David Blackburn says UTC doesn't have the money to add to any women's sports.

"It affected the fewest number of individuals," Blackburn said, "But yet it maximized the discrepancy because you can count track multiple ways, indoor outdoor and whatever you do with cross country."

Blackburn said in a statement to Channel 3, the decision hasn't changed and, "I feel for those who are affected, especially the current student-athletes. That is the main reason why we made sure to honor their scholarships until they graduate. "

But right now, the student athletes and supporters aren't taking no for an answer.

"Until all the options are fully exhausted we want to keep trying," O'Brien said.


 Supporters also organized a rally for this Sunday at Finley stadium from 4 - 7 pm.

 They are asking people to come out and support the team, and discuss any ideas that could help save them.

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ORIGINAL STORY: A federal regulation known as Title IX has been responsible for giving females a level playing field in the world of sports.

But now, it's responsible for a local university's decision to eliminate one of its sports programs.

UTC announced Tuesday it will drop its Men's Track and Field program after this season.

That decision will affect about 17 athletes on the UTC Men's Track roster.

“It was frankly shocking when I first heard the news,” Athletic Director David Blackburn said.

Blackburn said he found out about the problem about six months in to his new position.

Title IX guidelines require the number of male and female athletes to be proportional to that of the student body. At UTC, 55% of the student body is female while 45% is male.

“They use that proportionality as it relates to what your athletes look like. It has nothing to do with the financial aid that they may or may not be on. It has to do with head count,” Blackburn added.

University leaders looked at adding another female sport, but Blackburn says finances wouldn't be able to support one.

“Financially, we aren't able to do that and sustain it over a period of time,” he added.

Track athletes are counted three ways at UTC—through indoor, outdoor and cross country. Which is another reason why the men's program was dropped.

“It affected the fewest number of individuals, but yet it maximized the discrepancy because you can count track multiple ways. Indoor, outdoor and whatever you do with cross country,” Blackburn said.

The team will compete in both the indoor and outdoor seasons this semester and will limit participation in Men's Cross Country after this season.

Blackburn says the university will honor any aid the student athletes are getting through graduation.

Athletes are also able to transfer to an NCAA Division I school and will be eligible after the 2014-15 season.

CHATTANOOGA, TN (GoMocs.com) -- University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Vice Chancellor and Director of Athletics David Blackburn announced the Mocs will no longer participate in men's indoor and outdoor track & field and are limiting participation in men's cross country after the end of the 2014-15 season.

“This was a very difficult decision,” stated Blackburn. “You never want to cut a program, but based on our current Title IX situation and the current financial climate, it was a decision that had to be made.”

The Mocs are nearing the end of a five-year Title IX process, aimed at bringing the program in compliance with the Federal law.

“We carefully examined every possible option,” continued Blackburn. “It is clear that we are not in a position to add a sport, so we looked at ways to move toward compliance with Title IX that affected the least amount of people.”

“Eliminating the men's indoor and outdoor track programs is unfortunate for those student-athletes, but it affects the fewest number of individuals. We will honor all of their scholarships through graduation and we are not eliminating any coaching positions.”

The team will compete in both the Indoor and Outdoor seasons this semester.

Members of the men's track & field and cross country programs are free to transfer to any NCAA Division I school and be eligible after the 2014-15 season. The Athletics Department will assist with the transfer process for any student-athlete wishing to compete at another institution.
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