Last week, an activist who wants to restore Clemson’s men’s programs filed a complaint with the Department of Education, claiming that the elimination of the teams was an illegal act of racial discrimination.

The complaint asks the Department’s Civil Rights Office to investigate whether Clemson’s decision to end its programs for men and women violates Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which states that no institution receiving federal funds may discriminate on the basis of race, color, or national origin. The Civil Rights Office has not yet decided to investigate this case and has not yet confirmed or commented on the complaints before deciding whether or not to investigate.

Russell Dinkins, a former Princeton runner, filed a complaint against Title VI as part of his ongoing efforts to fight against universities cutting athletics programs in the midst of a pandemic that has resulted in significant budget cuts to many athletics departments.

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Clemson announced in November that it would disband its men’s cross-country and track and field teams at the end of the current school year. For now, the school has not announced its intention to discontinue other programs, and the expectation is that the women’s program will continue. Director of athletics Dan Radakovich said in an open letter about the decision that financial problems (the athletics department is forecasting a $25 million loss this fiscal year) were only part of the reasoning behind the school’s decision to stop sponsoring track and field and cross country.

He stated that only male athletics and track and field can provide the department with significant savings and long-term compliance with Title IX, which requires schools to provide equal opportunities for male and female athletes.

A spokesman for Clemson’s athletics department said the reduction in the number of male athletes is primarily driven by the desire to keep athletic opportunities for women in line with the growth of the female population on campus. To move closer to Title IX compliance, the school should add more women’s sports or eliminate men’s sports. Pandemic-related budget cuts currently make it much harder to add women’s sports. A spokesperson stated that Clemson has not yet received notification of the Title VI complaint and therefore cannot comment.

Dinkins argues that cuts to track and field and cross-country teams unfairly affect the majority of black athletes on campus who do not generate 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 and field team. More than 3% of all black male students at Clemson (22 of 693) are members of track and field or cross-country teams. By eliminating their opportunities, Dinkins said, we send the message that sports opportunities for black athletes are only worthwhile if they make money for school.

At a press conference in November, Radakovich said he and others took racial and cultural diversity into account before deciding to abolish track and cross-country programs.

This is definitely something we need to pay attention to, Radakovich said in November. Our entire campus and athletic program is racially and ethnically diverse. We will continue to do so in the future.

According to data collected by the NCAA in 2019, there are only four male Division I sports in which black athletes represent more than 10% of participants: Basketball (56%), soccer (49%), indoor track (28%) and outdoor track (27%). Cross-country and football come next with 10% of men identifying as black.

Dinkins has already held successful trail preservation events this year in Brown, William and Mary and Minnesota. Brown’s president, Kristina Paxson, said in June that she had decided to reverse her decision to discontinue funding after receiving feedback on how the move would affect students of color.

At Clemson, Dinkins is working with a group of interested athletes, alumni and parents who hope to achieve a similar result. Although Mr. Dinkins has indicated that he has influenced black athletes through his efforts at other schools, he says this is the first time he has filed a formal complaint of racial discrimination with the Department of Education. Mr. Dinkins filed the Title VI complaint himself, not on behalf of the group he is helping to organize, but he claims it is just one element of a layered approach. The group also organised marches, launched a letter-writing campaign and sought the support of state politicians.

This is one of many steps, Mr. Dinkins said of this Title VI complaint. The goal is to save Clemson’s track and field program, but also to send a message to all universities that eliminating track and field programs is not an acceptable option. You can’t rule out the possibility that some sports offer disproportionate opportunities to black athletes.

Radakovich and others from Clemson have so far stated that they would not reconsider their decision.

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