Complaint alleges Clemson's removal of men's track is racial discrimination

An activist attempting to reinstate Clemson's men's track and cross country programs filed a complaint with the Department of Education last week, claiming that eliminating the teams is an act of illegal racial discrimination.

The complaint asks the department's Office for Civil Rights to investigate whether Clemson's decision to end its men's track and cross country programs violates Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which states that no institution that receives federal funds can discriminate on the basis of race, color or national origin. The Office for Civil Rights has not yet decided whether it will open a case on the matter and does not confirm or comment on any complaints before deciding whether it will investigate.

Russell Dinkins, a former Princeton runner, filed the Title VI complaint as part of his ongoing effort to fight back against colleges that are cutting track programs amid a pandemic that has caused large budget shortfalls for many athletic departments.

Clemson announced in November that it would be getting rid of its men's cross country and track teams at the end of the current academic year. The school hasn't announced plans to cut other programs at this point, and the women's program is expected to continue. Athletic director Dan Radakovich said in an open letter announcing the decision that financial challenges (the athletic department is projecting a loss of $25 million in revenue this fiscal year) were only part of the reasoning that led the school to stop sponsoring track and cross country.

He said that "only men's track and field and cross country could provide the department with both substantial cost savings as well as the ability for long-term Title IX compliance," which mandates that schools provide equal opportunity for male and female athletes.

A spokesman for Clemson's athletic department said cutting men's track and cross country was motivated largely by an ongoing effort to make sure its athletic opportunities for women line up with the increasing female population on campus. To move closer to Title IX compliance the school would have to add more women's sports or eliminate a men's sport. Pandemic-related budget shortfalls make it much more difficult to add women's sports at this time. The spokesman said Clemson has not yet received notice of the Title VI complaint and thus would not be able to comment on it.

Dinkins argues that cutting the track and cross country teams unfairly targets the majority of Black athletes on campus who do not earn revenue for the school. He said two-thirds of the Black male athletes on campus who do not play football or basketball are on the track team. More than 3% of all Black male undergraduates at Clemson (22 of 693) are members of the track and field or cross country teams. Eliminating their opportunities, Dinkins said, sends a message that athletic opportunities for Black athletes are worthwhile only if those athletes are making money for the school.

Radakovich said during a news conference in November that he and others took race and diversity into account before making a decision to cut the track and cross country programs.

"It's certainly something we need to look at," Radakovich said in November. "Our whole campus and our athletic program are committed to racial and ethnic diversity. We will continue to do that moving into the future."

According to data collected by the NCAA in 2019, there are only four Division I men's college sports in which Black athletes make up more than 10% of participants: basketball (56%), football (49%), indoor track (28%) and outdoor track (27%). Cross country and soccer are the next highest on the list with 10% of its men identifying as Black.

This year Dinkins has already organized successful efforts to preserve track opportunities at Brown, William & Mary and Minnesota. Brown's president, Christina Paxson, said in June she decided to reverse a decision to drop track and field from varsity status after hearing feedback on how the move would impact students of color.

At Clemson, Dinkins is working with a group of concerned athletes, alumni and parents who are hoping to create a similar result. While Dinkins has pointed out the impact cutting track has on Black athletes as part of his efforts at other schools, he says this is the first time he's filed a formal complaint of racial discrimination with the Department of Education. Dinkins filed the Title VI complaint on his own, rather than on behalf of the group he is helping to organize, but says it is just one part of a multipronged approach. The group has also organized marches, started a letter-writing campaign and garnered support from state politicians.

"It's one move among many," Dinkins said of this Title VI complaint. "The goal is to save Clemson's track program, but it's also to let all colleges know that eliminating track programs is not an acceptable option. You can't eliminate a sport that provides disproportionate opportunities to black athletes."

Radakovich and others at Clemson have thus far said they do not plan to revisit their decision.