The Bemidji State men's indoor and outdoor track and field programs will be eliminated as part of the BSU and Northwest Technical College's recalibration plan announced Thursday.
The two programs were included in the comprehensive plan to address a $5 million budget shortfall for 2011-12 and 2012-13. The programs will cease competitive play at the end of the school year and the cuts affect two coaches and approximately 35 athletes.
"Any time decisions like these have to be made, it is tough on our student-athletes and entire athletic department," BSU Athletic Director Rick Goeb said in a press release. "Especially when our student-athletes are such outstanding role models and representatives of our university. But in the light of the nationwide financial crisis, the state's budget deficit, the magnitude of the estimated reduction to University's funding allocations, program cuts are unavoidable."
The men's outdoor track program began in 1928 and the indoor program was added in 1967. The program has produced two national champions, NAIA honors and Division II All-Americans.
The men's track programs first appeared on the cutting block in 2007 when former BSU President Jon Quistgaard directed the athletic department to cut its budget by $750,000 as part of a proposal. He granted a one-year extension for the programs in 2008 as long as fundraising goals and BSU athletic department roster management goals were met and an assistant coach was hired.
Wednesday's press release also states "the new recalibration plan allows the department of athletics to reduce its scope and improve the opportunities for women in athletics."
Those opportunities will aid in Bemidji State's Title IX compliance. Part of the Title IX federal law passed in 1972 requires gender equity for men and women in every educational program receiving federal funding. Bemidji State had 422 total participants in athletic programs in the 2009-10 school year. There were 259 males and 163 females.
Bemidji State will drop to a 15-team athletic program with the elimination of the men's track programs. The school offers Division I men's and women's hockey. There are 13 programs at the Division II level: four men's sports and nine women's sports.
Current BSU men's track and field coach Craig Hougen, a six-time NSIC Coach of the Year, has guided the track programs for 20 years and will continue to coach BSU women's indoor and outdoor track teams with assistant coach Ben Baird.
Wearing a "Save BSU Track" T-shirt at an all-campus meeting Wednesday at Hagg-Sauer Hall, Hougen expressed his concerns to current BSU President Richard Hanson.
"With the 'Save BSU Track' campaign we had to do two years ago, for some of the things you say "sustainable," you know we did raise the money to hire one of those assistant coaches," Hougen said. "We did raise the money to increase our scholarships. We did raise the money to pay for our equipment. So I believe we are sustainable."
Hougen said $28,000 in fundraised money from donors is being asked to be returned "because of broken promises that the track team will continue."
Hougen also questioned the the motivation behind the elimination of the programs.
"I don't believe you have the data," he said. "I don't believe you did this. I think it's other administrative entities. It might be vindictive for people when they didn't get it done two years ago. We might be the sacrificial lamb. But my little bit out of track and field that is going to be saved isn't much, but men's track and field is the sacrificial lamb for all of us. That's not right."
The BSU men's track and field programs perform community service in the city and the state. Hougen and his son-in-law recently purchased a $1,000 timing system with the capabilities of outputting instant results on site.
Hanson responded to Hougen's concerns.
"I can't respond to the pain and the issues you've raised, except to say there are some priorities we have to pay attention to, Hanson said. "I'll just list them and we can talk later. I think most people know what's going on. Title IX, NSIC membership and Division II membership are really important variables right now. We have relatively severe issues around the notion of proportionality. Male and female athletes compared to male and female ratios of the student body. That's a very serious issue. I wouldn't be surprised any day that a letter arrives for me from the house of civil rights. It's a complicated issue. I don't know what happened a couple years ago. I know I will do what I can. We will have chats, I can promise you that."