GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — As of Tuesday morning, the Central Michigan Athletic Department elected to cut the men’s indoor and outdoor track and field programs for financial reasons due to the coronavirus pandemic.
While athletic director Michael Alford believes the decision was correct due to the circumstances, he says it was the toughest of his career.
“It directly impacts 36 students,” Alford said in a conference call with members of the media Tuesday afternoon. “It was just tough. I had to tell them their program no longer exists, especially the alumni. It is such a storied rich program. It was the toughest decision I’ve ever had to make, but I know it’s the right one.”
The university expects to save more than $625,000 in the long term.
Wood TV8 caught up with a member of the Chippewas track and field team, Parker Aerts, who was going into his junior season.
While Aerts is upset with the news and feels it is somewhat unfair, he does see the other side of the situation.
“You look at other institutions like Western Michigan and the cuts they are making on their athletic department — they still didn’t elect to cut any athletic programs,” Aerts said. “Coaches are just taking pay cuts. It’s a little bit different for them. Central had the flexibility to get rid of a sports team and this was the easiest route they could’ve taken.
“It’s a bummer for my teammates, myself and coaches.”
The Reeths-Puffer graduate has personal outdoor records of 11.05 in the 100-meter, 22.77 in the 200-meter and 15.52 on 110-meter hurdles. As for indoor, his time was 7.01 in 60 meters, 8.26 in 60 hurdles and a triple jump of 13.43 meters. He earned Academic All-MAC honors in 2020.
Aerts has entered the transfer portal and will look to play elsewhere but wants to talk with his family and think before making the decision. As of right now, this news is still fresh on his mind.
“It didn’t even come to my brain until like a half hour ago that what if the indoor track meet was my last time competing,” Aerts said. “That was the first time I cried, hours after I got the news. It’s scary.”
With the discontinuation of the men’s track and field program, CMU has now dropped from 18 to 16 athletic teams.
As for the Chippewas in-state Mid-American Conference rivals, Western Michigan is at 16 sports while Eastern Michigan is at 18.
Of the Chippewas 16 sports remaining, 11 are women’s (basketball, field hockey, soccer, basketball, softball, golf, track and field, gymnastics, lacrosse and volleyball) and five are men’s (football, basketball, baseball, cross country and wrestling).
A minimum of six men’s teams is needed to remain a Division I program in the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision.
Alford said he has “various models” to avoid dropping from the FBS, which he sent to the NCAA. It is now a waiver that he is waiting to hear back on. He said he “expects and answer quickly.”
As mentioned by Alford, the direct impact effects 36 student-athletes on those teams. The school will honor the scholarships but also supports the decision to take their athletic talents elsewhere. If a player from these teams elects to depart from Mount Pleasant, they will be eligible immediately to compete at their new institution.
“We are very student-centered here and President (Bob) Davies does an unbelievable job being student focused,” Alford said. “I want (the athletes) to have the ability to go and compete somewhere as soon as possible, which was my driving force to make this decision as soon as possible.”
Earlier in May, CMU made salary changes to football coach Jim McElwain, men’s basketball’s Keno Davis, women’s basketball’s Heather Oesterle and others. Alford took an 8% pay cut himself, while the three coaches mentioned took 6% pay cuts.
As of right now, Alford does not have a plan in the foreseeable future for the men’s track and field program to return.
“Unfortunately (men’s track and field) won’t be coming back due to the need to achieve financial stability in the long term. Right now, it won’t.”