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Claim: Racial Discrimination in Clemson's Track Cut

Paul Steinbach

An activist attempting to reinstate Clemson University's men's track and cross country programs filed a complaint with the Department of Education last week, claiming that eliminating the teams is an act of illegal racial discrimination.

As reported by Dan Murphy of ESPN, the complaint asks the department's Office for Civil Rights to investigate whether Clemson's decision to end its men's track and cross country programs violates Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which states that no institution that receives federal funds can discriminate on the basis of race, color or national origin. The Office for Civil Rights has not yet decided whether it will open a case on the matter and does not confirm or comment on any complaints before deciding whether it will investigate.

Former Princeton runner Russell Dinkins filed the Title VI complaint as part of his ongoing effort to fight back against colleges that are cutting track programs amid a pandemic that has caused large budget shortfalls for many athletic departments.

Dinkins argues that cutting the track and cross country teams unfairly targets the majority of Black athletes on campus who do not earn revenue for the school. He said two-thirds of the Black male athletes on campus who do not play football or basketball are on the track team. More than 3 percent of all Black male undergraduates at Clemson (22 of 693) are members of the track and field or cross country teams. Eliminating their opportunities, Dinkins said, sends a message that athletic opportunities for Black athletes are worthwhile only if those athletes are making money for the school.

Clemson announced in November that it would be cutting men's cross country and track teams at the end of the current academic year, while the women's program is expected to continue. Athletic director Dan Radakovich said in an open letter announcing the decision that financial challenges were only part of the reasoning that led the school to stop sponsoring track and cross country. The athletic department is projecting a loss of $25 million in revenue this fiscal year.

He said that "only men's track and field and cross country could provide the department with both substantial cost savings as well as the ability for long-term Title IX compliance," which mandates that schools provide equal opportunity for male and female athletes.

Radakovich said during a news conference in November that he and others took race and diversity into account before making a decision to cut the track and cross country programs.

"It's certainly something we need to look at," Radakovich said in November. "Our whole campus and our athletic program are committed to racial and ethnic diversity. We will continue to do that moving into the future."

Dinkins has already organized successful efforts to preserve track opportunities at Brown, William & Mary and Minnesota. "It's one move among many," Dinkins said of this Title VI complaint on behalf of Clemson athletes. "The goal is to save Clemson's track program, but it's also to let all colleges know that eliminating track programs is not an acceptable option. You can't eliminate a sport that provides disproportionate opportunities to black athletes."

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