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Column: ‘Unforced error’ undermined Dartmouth athletics

For the Valley News
Published: 3/18/2021 10:10:14 PM
Modified: 3/18/2021 10:10:12 PM

At the end of the summer, I retired after 28 years of coaching cross-country and track and field at Dartmouth College. I continue to follow college sports, Dartmouth in particular, quite closely. Like many alumni, I was extremely pleased to see the news that Dartmouth had reinstated the five teams that had been dropped last spring.

Having said that, I have to put this whole fiasco in the category of an “unforced error.” Simply put, there was no good reason to drop the teams in the first place. The cost of the teams was minimal, and much of their budget was actually made up of soft funds — money raised by “Friends” groups, along with substantial endowment income, paid for much of their expense.

The bigger issue, from my point of view, is that the cuts were driven by the opinion that too many of the college’s annual admission spots were devoted to student-athletes and that reallocating approximately 20 spots each year would allow the college to pursue other institutional priorities. It is incredibly disappointing that the college, or at least those who pushed this agenda, failed to recognize that Dartmouth’s student-athletes bring so much more to the school than their high-level athletic skills alone. As a former Dartmouth student-athlete myself, I cannot help but feel that dropping the teams, even though they were brought back under outside pressure, greatly undervalues Dartmouth’s long-time commitment to athletics as an integral part of the college experience.

Dartmouth’s teams are populated by a diverse group of students who are talented in a multitude of ways. Their graduation rate in the last NCAA report is 99.7%, quite literally the best number in the country. Their academic interests range across all of the majors on campus and their participation in internships and off-campus programs is extremely high. They go on to careers in medicine, law, government, business, engineering, education and countless other professions. And they do all of this while working incredibly hard at the sports that they love. Their loyalty and support of the school after graduation is unparalleled.

Now these teams, and even the sports that were not on the chopping block, will face significant challenges. The very public black eye that the athletic department has sustained will take a long time to heal and potential prospects will need a tremendous amount of convincing, for quite some time, to commit to Dartmouth.

The college did make an outstanding move by naming Peter Roby as interim athletic director. He will do a great job over the next year, but he will need a lot of help to get things moving in right direction. There needs to be a very public statement by the college administration that the athletic department, student-athletes and coaches are highly valued. And that they will be strongly supported both in funding and in having admission policies on par with our peer institutions. Dartmouth’s status as the smallest Ivy has always been treated as a plus by our coaching staffs in their recruiting efforts. That should not be compromised by having smaller recruiting classes than the other Ivy schools have to work with.

It would be helpful if as many alums as possible pushed their class representatives to get this topic back on the agenda for Alumni Council. When the teams were originally dropped, that issue was on the agenda for the council to discuss. Unfortunately, it was dropped as an agenda item. That should not happen again.

As bleak as things may be right now, the athletic department has a unique ability to bounce back and continue to provide wonderful opportunities for our student-athletes. They in turn will, as they always have, help to make Dartmouth a special place.

Barry Harwick, of Hanover, a 1977 Dartmouth graduate, coached cross-country and track and field at Dartmouth from 1992 to 2020.

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