If you enjoy running as much as I do, you probably have found yourself digging through race archives, rewatching some of the greatest races in our sport. Running, according to history, preceded all the other sports we see today.
Yet, today, our sport faces a highly questionable future.
On July 8th, 2020, Stanford University cut 11 non-revenue sports.
Thankfully, their successful Cross Country and Track & Field programs were not included in the cuts. As a collegiate athlete, I can only feel so much pain for those whose sports were stopped before their eyes.
Their archives end on July 8th, 2020.
The reason I bring this up is that a few smaller colleges have already announced their cuts, with some including Cross Country and Track & Field programs.
The University of Akron, Central Michigan University, East Carolina University and the University of Connecticut are just a few. Considering Stanford’s endowment in 2019 was ~$27.7 billion according to Google, our sport is in real danger, no matter how wealthy your school is.
But how did we get here?
News flash, it is not just because of the pandemic with COVID-19. I can only assume that many of these institutions have been wanting to cut these sports for a long time. They sadly hold true to their name–a non-revenue generating Olympic sport.
Why has our sport failed to produce any revenue?
Let’s start with the coverage our sports receive — or should I say the lack thereof. Do you want to enjoy a highly anticipated college race? Well, be ready to pay into a monthly membership. Do you want to rewatch your team winning a meet? Better have the credit card info available. Do you want to read a pre-race preview in full detail? Of course, but what is your billing zip code?
Our sport has been infiltrated by notorious paywalls.
To even watch the elites race outside of the Olympics, you better be ready to pay money for an NBC Gold membership.
This is killing our sport.
It generates considerable revenue for the businesses that create this content, but leaving the others, the athletes, in the dark.
How do young kids get inspired to do a particular sport?
Take football, for example. They see their favorite player on Monday night television that is included in their cable package and want to grow up to be just like them.
This is not replicated for track and field.
Kids rarely see the Emma Coburns, the Christian Taylors, the Lopez Lomongs of our sport unless it is an Olympic season. Thus, they only know how to grow up to be soccer, football, or basketball players.
Furthermore, when these races are televised or streamed, they are sometimes plagued with inaccurate commentary or advertisements that cut away some of the best parts of a race.
Sure, your average viewer may not want to watch every lap of a 10,000 meter race.
However, cutting to an advertisement break usually misses the best moves being made, the grit of these athletes and the passion and sweat they pour out on the track.
Have you ever watched English Premier League soccer? Even during the boring minutes of the ninety-minute match where the action is stalled, the commenters add texture, stories, and personality into the game to make it feel alive. Instead, all we hear is, “we will bring you back in the closing laps of the 10000-meter race.”
In short: Our sport is losing money because it is not fighting hard enough to make its presence known. As other sports adapt and get creative with technology to enhance the modern-day viewing experience, the sport of track stays put.
Our 2-week slot in primetime every 4 years is not enough. We can and need to do more.
All of this brings me to my main point: What if running ended today?
With the looming cloud of the possibility that collegiate football may not happen in the 2020 season, the hope of our sport surviving is becoming even direr.
So, what can we do?
Now, more than ever, we need to know WHY we run. It is not merely WHAT or HOW we run, but WHY we run.
When I was getting recruited to run in college, I had to continuously ask myself where I would be most happy if running ended today. I had only thought about it in terms of a career-ending injury.
However, now exists the possibility for many that it is in terms of their sport being cut. I am not one who likes dwelling in the past or stuck thinking about the future, but rather enjoying the present moment we have presented in front of us.
Each morning, I am blessed with the chance to put on two pairs of shoes and walk out the door to do my sport.
My WHY for why I run: To find my inner peace as I put one foot in front of the other. To learn about life through the eyes of my teammates. To have some of the best conversations under the beams of the sun. To feel free. To understand the value of hard work, dedication, loyalty and teamwork.
To not compare myself to other runners, but to run for an audience of 1.
This sport has taught me more than just how to run. It has taught me the value of life that is presented before us. If the sport’s presence becomes unsustainable, I will always know that I have my WHY to come back to.
But I know one thing is for sure when I toe that starting line again — I will never take for granted the moment before the gun goes off, being surrounded by the men and women who have made me the person I am today.
If running “ended” today, I would be content knowing that I did it with my why.
CHRIS THEODORE — DUKE UNIVERSITY
3000 Meter Run: 8:26.70
5000 Meter Run: 14:38.62
8000 Meter Run (XC): 24:44.80
Follow Chris on Twitter and Instagram