The cross country season has wrapped up for MIAA schools with the NCAA Division II championships last Saturday. For Washburn, however, the cross country season was never even unwrapped.
Eight of the 10 MIAA schools have a men’s and women’s cross country team as an intercollegiate sport, Washburn and Missouri Western State are the only schools that don’t.
“Cross country certainly is intriguing,” said Loren FerrÃ©, director of athletics at Washburn. “There’s not a lot of expense to the sport. If the student body had an interest and enough people were running, we would take a hard look at it.”
It’s not like runners haven’t shown interest in the past, but FerrÃ© said there has not been a sustained effort to follow through on that interest. Part may be because of the strict guidelines laid out by the university and government to become an intercollegiate sport.
One major issue is Title IX. Currently, Washburn offers five NCAA sports each for men and women. So a men’s team could not be added without a women’s team. Carol Vogel, director of equal opportunity, said that might not be the biggest issue, though.
“The important thing is if by adding a cross country team, it would positively effect the opportunities for women,” said Vogel. “The opportunities would have to increase for women and would have to improve the representation and proportionality of women and men athletes.”
Approximately 60 percent of students at Washburn are women and 40 percent are men. However, only 40 percent of athletes at Washburn are women to 60 percent for men – the inverse of how the proportion should be ideally.
“Since we have football, which has so many more players, there’s no comparable women’s sport,” said Vogel. “So we have to comply [to Title IX] by one of two other methods. Either increasing opportunities for women to participate or show that we are completely meeting and satisfying the interests and abilities of our student body.”
While the government has it’s say in the process through Title IX, Washburn has it’s own criteria to meet before a sport will be reviewed as a possible intercollegiate sport.
One university policy is that the sport must be a successful club sport on campus for at least two years. The policy also requires students who are able to compete competitively on an intercollegiate level, a commitment to participation and practice by the students, a stable or increasing number of student participants and a projected stability and/or growth of participation in the sport at the high school level where recruits would come from.
A potential challenge is the recruitment of quality athletes, said Dave Provorse, teacher of the marathon training class at Washburn.
“Competitiveness becomes a different question,” said Provorse. “If it’s not a varsity sport, if scholarships are not offered, then people who are scholarship-level runners are probably going to gravitate toward schools they can get a scholarship from. What Washburn would be left with would be the non-scholarship folks.”
However, Provorse also sees great potential for the recruitment of cross country runners in the Washburn area, especially with the recent success Washburn athletics has enjoyed.
“I think if you look at enrollment in general,” said Provorse. “Every year we get more and more regional reputation. I certainly think the base is there.”
Brian Flax, president of the runner’s club at Washburn, agreed there would always be a base group interested in competing for Washburn, adding that there is plenty of local talent to begin a movement for a cross country team at Washburn.
“Topeka is a strong base for running,” said Flax. “I think with the growth process that Washburn is undergoing, the timing is good to try and make this happen.”
Those comments certainly aren’t without merit. The last few years have been marked by cross country strength in 5A State by Seaman High School in Topeka. The last three years have seen the Lady Vikes capture two state runner-up titles and a state championship, while the boys reeled in two state runner-up titles. Both teams had individual state champions as well.
However, Marsha Carrasco Cooper, the new director of the Office of Student Activities and Greek Life, said the process of becoming recognized as a club sport is being reviewed. She said the office would look at the relationships between organizations and departments involved with club sports in addition to what it means to be a club sport and the past requirements for becoming a club sport.
Budget issues must also be taken into account when bringing a new team into the fold of Washburn athletics. Adding a team that the budget can’t support would be setting it up for almost certain failure.
FerrÃ© said that budget-wise, the biggest expenses for cross country are the salary for the coach, travel expenses and scholarships.
“We don’t want to do something that we can’t do right, that we can’t be competitive in and that we can’t fund adequately,” said FerrÃ©, who won the Division II Central Regional Athletic Director of the Year award in 2005. “We don’t want to put a team out there just to have a team. We want to do it the right way.”
The right way includes a total of eight stipulations for adding an intercollegiate sport to the school, including the previously mentioned club sport and Title IX requirements. But, with no rules for adding club sports at the moment, it would appear to be a stalemate situation.
For now, any hopes of cross country becoming a sport in any regard at Washburn hinges on what will happen with the club sport program.
“We have so many things we want to do as a university,” said Joel Bluml, director of the SRWC. “For me personally, I have so many initiatives that I want to implement, but I have to decide what I’m going to do when I come to work each day. If the university says that club sports are something we need to work on and get going, then that jumps way up the list. If it’s not, then we will do the other things that are on our list.
“The one thing that we need to decide as a university is if an organized club sport program is something we want to pursue.”