Fighting Back: Brown University Athletes Left Blindsided by “Excellence Initiative” Program Cuts

Rising senior sprinter Tim McDonough started Thursday, May 28, as a Division 1 athlete with Brown University. However, that day, around noon, McDonough, and a group of athletes from eleven different Brown teams, were invited to an ‘important webinar’. 

“When I signed in to the call, [athletic director] Jack Hayes gave a small preamble and then told us that all teams on the call were officially reduced to club status. Altogether the call lasted less than 10 minutes”. 

Beyond the horrendously short notice and sharp delivery of the news, the worst part was that Brown’s stated reason for their cuts was their ‘excellence initiative’, a way for the Bears to stay more competitive in the Ivy League. Essentially: “Your team isn’t good enough. So we’re cutting you”. With a 2 billion dollar endowment, it’s hard to sympathize with the administration on the financial side of things, and at the very least, they must be held accountable for the abrupt announcement and horrible situation they have left their athletes in. The eleven teams cut were men’s and women’s fencing, men’s and women’s golf, women’s skiing, men’s and women’s squash, women’s equestrian and men’s indoor and outdoor track and cross country. The track and field team in particular has to wonder exactly what they have to do to be considered one of Brown’s competitive teams, and they’ve launched a social media campaign to plead their case. Just this past season, Brown boasted athletes that finished in the Ivy League top-5 in seven different events, including two in the weight throw. They have top-20 athletes in nearly every event. A year ago, Brown finished fifth as a team at the indoor track Ivy League championships, and they notched a third-place finish the year before that. Exactly what level of success was the Brown administration looking for?

Meanwhile, athletes, alumni, nor coaches were involved in this decision, or even warned of the impending demotion of their team. For those who couldn’t make the Zoom call on such short notice, they found out from teammates or even other friends: “I didn’t find out about the team being cut until my friend on the gymnast team sent me a message telling me how sorry she was”, rising sophomore javelin thrower Kevin Fairchild said, “I asked about what, and then she dropped the news to me”. Rising junior sprinter Alex Wilson echoed those sentiments: ““This news was very disheartening for us as athletes because it was delivered in an untimely manner with no forewarning and with little to no transparency from the administration”. 

Meanwhile, Brown’s follow-up to the stunning announcement has been paltry and unsatisfactory to their athletes, who feel they have virtually no options besides transferring. McDonough referred to another call hosted by the athletic department to answer questions, but they would only accept questions that they wanted to hear: “Some track athletes did attend the call and expressed anger that the athletic department seemed to want us to transfer. People left the call saying that they felt even more disrespected than they had the day before when the cuts were announced” McDonough said, “During that call, all athletes were put on mute and were required to type questions to the athletic department liaison. The liaisons refused to acknowledge any questions about why the decision was made, only discussing the transfer process”. 

So for all returning Brown athletes, the message was essentially transfer, or end your track career. 

The idea of transferring, especially for rising seniors like McDonough, is an emotional one. McDonough gave up a full Air Force ROTC scholarship in order to continue competing on the track team after his freshman season. “It is not an understatement to say that Brown Track has defined my college experience. I can say that my teammates and coaches have shaped me as a person, and I am better for it.” 

Then there’s the freshmen this past season, who barely got a chance to compete for their university, before finding out the end of their program had been in the makings since before their commitment to the university. Fairchild said of this: “The track team has been my family since the first day I walked onto campus. The reason I even considered going to Brown was because of the program. I chose this team because I felt it was my best shot at progressing to the next level. I’m only an outdoor season athlete, so I never got a chance to show what I can produce. Never got to represent the institution I used to love”.

Track is a major reason many of these athletes choose to attend Brown. In interviews with several incoming recruits and current Brown athletes, the theme was the same – they chose Brown Track because of the family culture that is present within the team, and the chance to combine a premier education while competing at the Division I level. Ivy League schools have notoriously low transfer rates, even for athletes, and so the possibility of these athletes getting a similar experience elsewhere is slim at best. Their so-called “Excellence-Initiative” has prematurely ended careers, forced athletes and students to transfer, and, beyond that, endangered the careers of incoming recruits. 

“I committed to Brown because I felt that I had access to both a world-class education and exceptional athletics”, Kelley said, ““I am extremely disappointed in the timing and the abrupt nature of this decision by Brown University. There is no phase out period to allow me to compete as I had been promised and to give me the opportunity to sort out plans to transfer to an institution that would allow me to compete”. 

The women’s team is also greatly affected by this decision: A post from Brown’s official Sprints and Hurdles Instagram read: “Men and Women in this sport work as a team. This team trains together, eats together, and travels together. Mean and women in this sport are truly equal; they are co-captains, training partners, and family”. 

So while the women’s team may continue to compete at the D1 level, they’re losing a major part of their family-like culture and community. Incoming women’s sprinter Cecilia Marrinan spoke about that: “Choosing Brown was easy. The track team possessed a strong camaraderie and positive culture…it was clear from the start that this team operated as one unit. I was eager to be a part of that family” Marrinan said, “I feel betrayed that my dreams of being a part of one big family have been ripped away from me before I even got to Brown. This decision affects the women’s team immeasurably. I would not have chosen Brown if I knew that the administration would treat their athletes with such disregard. You cannot rip family apart and still expect excellence”. 

Kelley has contacted several other Ivy League teams, only to be told that, while sympathetic for his situation, they could not give him a spot on such short notice. Thus Kelley’s options are either to take a gap year to retain eligibility, or to compete at the club level for a year and transfer. Either way, transitioning back to a D1 level will be exceptionally difficult, and Kelley and his fellow Brown commits are faced with the difficult decision that could have easily been prevented by Hayes or anyone else in charge of this decision.

According to them, the decision has been in the works for two years; two years, and they couldn’t so much as warn the coaches or athletes? Two years isn’t a financial emergency –  if it was, alumni would have been contacted, and that generous endowment could have been utilized. Rather, it was a slow and deliberate decision to not only cut eleven programs, but to leave their athletes with barely any course of action. “They robbed me of my college experience, and they’ve put a serious roadblock in my career”, Fairchild said. 

Whether it was a lengthy admissions and recruiting process that led recruits to eventually choosing Brown, or current athletes with years of developing a tight bond with their track family, this decision has sent core parts of their life into upheaval.

Jack Hayes knew about it for two years. But all he gave his athletes was ten minutes this past Thursday to let them know that their entire careers have been disrupted and possibly ended. 

It’s unacceptable, and sets a horrific precedent for athletic administrations cutting teams for ‘excellence initiatives’ with zero regard for the effect it has on the athletes within those programs. Hold them accountable.
To help Brown’s athletes with their campaign, share this on social media and use the hashtags #oneBruno and #SaveBrownTrack to promote their effort to reverse the university’s decision.  

Thank you to all the Brown athletes and recruits who told their story for this article. You can help them at both of the following links.
A Petition:

A GoFundMe