Updated at 12:05 p.m. EST to update information regarding CMU’s FBS/Division I standing after the elimination of men’s indoor/outdoor track-and-field.
Updated at 4:45 p.m. EST to add additional comments from AD Michael Alford in a press call this afternoon.
The coronavirus pandemic has forced colleges across the country to re-evaluate the feasibility of their university budgets, and Central Michigan University is the latest school to make a decision regarding their athletics budget.
On Tuesday morning, the university announced via press release it would “discontinue” their men’s indoor track and outdoor track-and-field programs, effective immediately, a decision made with “looming university-wide budget cuts” in mind.
The change will directly affect 36 athletic scholarships and two full-time athletic assistant coaches, moving forward. Affected student-athletes will have their scholarships honored at CMU should they choose to stay, and will also have the choice to be able to transfer to a new athletic institution without penalty. Recruits who signed letters of intent with CMU for the fall 2020 season will also have their scholarships honored, should they choose to attend.
Men’s cross-country will be converted to a non-scholarship sport as well, keeping CMU at the minimum number of required programs for FBS Division I membership.
The various moves are expected to save CMU $628,798 in its future budgets.
“Hundreds of students have participated in this longstanding, successful program at Central Michigan, and we know this will impact them — and supporters of this program — greatly,” CMU athletic director Michael Alford said in the press release. “My heart goes out to these student-athletes; I know this is incredibly difficult for them. We hope they continue their academic journeys at Central Michigan, but also wish them the best if they’re able to continue athletic pursuits elsewhere.”
The university cited “its inability to meet the financial needs of the program to be successful” as part of the reason for the cuts, and hinted there would be difficulties across the campus due to both an anticipated decline in attendence numbers and the unanticipated difficulties of dealing with the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The decision leaves CMU with the following sports: basketball (men’s and women’s), football, women’s soccer, women’s golf, baseball, softball, cross country (men’s and women’s), field hockey, women’s track and field, gymnastics, women’s lacrosse, volleyball and wrestling.
This leaves CMU with five sponsored men’s sports, with basketball, football, baseball, men’s cross-country (non-scholarship) and wrestling sponsored by the university. The move to eliminate CMU men’s indoor/outdoor track and field would bring CMU below the NCAA’s minimum threshold of six men’s programs for FBS compliance, though the university still would be Division I compliant.
Alford addressed the issue in a media call on Tuesday afternoon, saying CMU is in the process of applying for a waiver with the NCAA to remain in compliance despite falling below the minimum number of men’s programs, saying he “anticipates a positive response” on the application.
(Earlier this month, the NCAA denied a motion brought on by five conferences to temporarily reduce the FBS-minimum standards over the next four academic years, which likely prompted the waiver application.)
Alford told media the department had looked at “six or seven models” before making their decision on cutting men’s track-and-field. “Every area of the university in every department has been affected,” Alford said. “When I looked the different models, it was impossible to make it work without this [move.]”
Alford said the decision was the hardest he had ever had to make as an athletic director, and was clearly emotional when talking about meeting with student-athletes, coaches and alumni, but also said it was “the right decision at this time.”
There’s currently no timeline on when the university is expected to hear back from the NCAA regarding the status of their waiver request. For now, Alford said, the university will continue to create models for potential future scenarios.
This article will update as the story develops.