If you appreciate athletic competition at its best and its purest, the Penn Relays Carnival is the event to see. Like the Masters in golf or Wimbledon in tennis, this 101-year-old event has so much tradition behind it that it transcends the competition and the competitors. People do not come to the Relays just to catch glimpses of Carl Lewis or Kevin Young or to see a particular collegiate event. They come to be part of the atmosphere, of the drama that surrounds every race from the high school level on up. If you want to know how glorious Franklin Field is when it is packed and rocking, you have two options -- the football team's bi-annual homecoming game against Princeton or the Penn Relays. And if you are one of those bemoaning this university's lack of contact with the community that surrounds us, this is also the event for you. Penn Relays is the only time each year when the city at large -- and the world at large, for that matter -- is invited to converge on this campus. It is a coming-out party for all of Philadelphia, and Penn gets to play host. For any number of reasons, the Relays is one of the crown jewels of Penn's athletic department, and it should be treated as such. That's what makes the allegations issued by former Penn Relays Director Tim Baker, when he resigned a little more than three months ago, all the more disturbing. For those who missed it, Baker's letter of resignation included a number of ominous statements about the future of the Relays. Foremost among his complaints was that the Athletic Department plans to cut money given to visiting teams by over $90,000 for the sake of increasing profits. That move could have serious repercussions for the ability of the Relays to attract top collegiate-level teams from around the country and the world. Still, the Penn Relays is too big to be seriously affected by a loss of $90,000. The worst part about this policy is not the practical implications it has, but rather the attitude it conveys. Baker put it best in his letter when he claimed that the Athletic Department "looks at Penn Relays basically as a cash cow that they can use." A cash cow is a far cry from a crown jewel. If Baker meant to imply that the Athletic Department simply does not care about the importance of the Relays for this campus and this community, he is almost certainly wrong. In all likelihood, with numerous Penn teams clamoring for a larger piece of a very limited budget, the Athletic Department truly needs the money it will get by curbing the funds going to the Relays. But keeping all that in mind does not make the situation any less troubling. The infiltration of money into sports has long been a recurring tragedy. Ever since greedy Walter O' Malley took the Dodgers out of Brooklyn, teams and events that are veritable institutions in their respective communities have succumbed to the almighty dollar. The Dodgers reference was not meant to insinuate that the Relays will be going anywhere anytime soon. A few less teams competing and a few cancelled races is no reason for all-out panic. It's just that this event could not have survived and grown for 101 years if it had not received a tremendous amount of care and nurturing from those in charge of it. In an ideal world, the Athletic Department would feel a sense of responsibility to everyone who came before it -- competitors, organizers and fans -- and who made the Penn Relays Carnival what it is today. In an ideal world, 101 years worth of tradition would be worth a few less dollars and little more red ink. As sports has proven time and again, however, this is not an ideal world.Comments powered by Disqus
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