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Brown's decision to demote the men's track, field, and cross country teams to club status was met with much student and alumni backlash.

Credit: Kylie Cooper

Brown University will reinstate men’s track, field, and cross country as varsity sports after they were demoted to club status, President Christina Paxson announced in an email sent to the Brown community on Tuesday night. 

Brown had originally cut those three teams, along with eight others, as part of the Excellence in Brown Athletics Initiative, an external committee tasked with improving athletic performance after the Bears won just 2.8% of Ivy League titles over the previous decade. 

Paxson noted in the announcement that the decision to reinstate these teams will not affect the status of the other eight teams that had been demoted.

The committee recommended the demotion of 11 varsity teams in an attempt to pool resources to have fewer, more competitive teams. 

However, the demotion of men’s track and field was met with widespread backlash, resulting in a petition that garnered nearly 50,000 signatures. 

Brown students and alumni were particularly concerned that removing the men’s track, field, and cross country teams would have an adverse impact on diversity on the campus and in athletics, as the teams were some of the most racially diverse. 

“As a player of color on a predominantly white varsity team it is my responsibility to support and advocate for diversity in athletics,” stated Mahdia Parker, a rising sophomore on Brown women’s rugby, in a comment on the petition. “Track and field is one of the few diverse athletic programs at Brown and it would be a disservice to not only athletes of color but the entire Brown community to have it cut.”

In her announcement, Paxson noted that the primary reason that those three teams were demoted was because of a 1998 Title IX lawsuit, which was not the case for the rest of the demoted teams. She stated that as a result of a settlement, Brown implemented tight constraints regarding the balance of varsity athletic opportunities between men and women. 

Consequently, the decision to reinstate the men’s teams will result in modifications of squad sizes in order to remain in compliance with the settlement agreement. 

“Our students, alumni, and parents took the time to share their deeply personal stories of the transformative impact that participation in track, field, and cross country has had on their lives,” Paxson said. “Many noted that, through Brown’s history, these sports have been a point of entry to higher education for academically talented students who otherwise would not have had the opportunity, many of them students of color.

Paxson also noted that the removal of the men’s track, field, and cross country teams could adversely affect the corresponding women’s teams. 

While the decision is effective immediately, Paxson stated that she is committed to reducing the number of varsity sports at Brown.