When national championships and spring sports seasons began to fall victim to the spread of COVID-19, many in athletics started to speculate about additional changes that might occur throughout 2020 as a result of the global pandemic.
What former General McLane standout Nate Price and others at Brown University didn't realize until yesterday was that their athletic future at the Ivy League school started to change well before the coronavirus reached the U.S.
"There was a little bit of vague language floating around about improving the competitiveness of the athletics programs, but no student and no coach knew that anything like this was coming, even all the way up until we got up this morning," Price said of Thursday afternoon's announcement that men's cross country and indoor and outdoor track were being dropped from varsity to club status and among the casualties of the Excellence in Brown Athletics Initiative.
According to school officials, the initiative started to take shape during the 2018-19 academic year. An external review of Brown's athletic offerings at that time determined that "the high number of varsity sports at Brown was a barrier" to faring well in the always competitive Ivy League. School officials stated that from 2009 to 2018, Brown earned only 2.8% of conference titles.
"When you see another team that you compete with all the time and they'll be at Heps, it just means a little more than people understand sometimes," Price said of the intense rivalries between the eight schools known more often for their academic prowess than athletics. "It's both parts a competition and a brotherhood. We are friendly with other teams in the (Ivy) League, and we highly respect them but when we get on the course, it makes your blood boil to not beat one of those teams. And you want it every single time."
The "bold plan to reshape athletics" at Brown leaves the Providence, R.I., school as the only conference member without men's track and XC as a varsity sport. The other Brown sports moved to club status include men's and women's teams in fencing, golf and squash, along with women's skiing and equestrian. Club coed sailing and club women's sailing were promoted to varsity status, leaving Brown with 29 varsity teams for 2020-21.
Brown officials said the changes to track, XC and the other sports are unrelated to the coronavirus pandemic, which had resulted in men's track and XC programs being eliminated in recent weeks at Akron, Central Michigan and Appalachian State.
University President Christina H. Paxson noted Brown's initiative is not a measure to reduce budget or an effort to contend with the financial impact of the pandemic but "an opportunity to invest further in advancing excellence in Brown's full lineup of sports programs."Prior to the changes announced yesterday, Brown reportedly was home to the third-largest number of varsity teams in collegiate athletics with 38.
Above: Price winning the District 10 Class AAA 1600m in 2019 in a PR of 4:20.87
Price took a solid resume to Brown. In his senior season in 2019, he ranked in the top 25 in PA in both the 1,600 and 3,200 meters and finished in the top 6 in the Class AA finale at Hershey as a junior and senior and also was sixth in the AAA 3,200 in 2018.
"What drew me to Brown first off were the people," Price said. "When I went and visited, the team was a real highlight for me. I was very excited to go and live with and work with my teammates there at Brown. Also, the curriculum setup and education opportunities and opportunities to connect with other people were all really enticing, and that's why I chose Brown."
According to the General McLane graduate, athletes and coaches in the affected programs received e-mails from the athletic department, alerting them to an important Zoom meeting at 1 p.m. Thursday that all should attend. With the news only a few hours old at the time, Price said he had not considered what options he might have outside of continuing at Brown.
"I think we're all kind of just in a state of shock at the moment," he said. "None of us has really wrapped our heads around all the decisions that are to come, the full impact that this will have on our careers, academically and athletically and how we'll continue to move forward. Hopefully myself included and everybody else on the team will find what's best for them, for their career and academics and them personally."
Price was the only Pennsylvania athlete on Brown's men's cross country team last fall, while former Keystone state standouts and Brown sophomores Jono Pelusi and Joe Grula joined Price on the 2020 track roster.
Above: Price is interviewed after a third place finish in AA at the PIAA XC State Championships
Pelusi was a two-time PIAA qualifier and WPIAL champion in the pole vault at North Allegheny, while Grula also competed twice at Shippensburg in the javelin and once in the triple jump, grabbing 8th in the AAA javelin in 2018 for Hazleton Area. Pelusi finished fourth in the heptathlon at the 2020 Heps, while Grula was fifth in the javelin a year ago in the Ivy League.
"My first year, it was exciting, it was kind of a rollercoaster as I had some really good races," Price said of his freshman XC season. "I really enjoyed being on the team and working my butt off with all of the rest of the guys. Toward the end of indoor season, I developed a foot injury which is why I only raced one time in the indoor season.
"I was really excited with the progress I was making, and it's been a long time since I've had a good solid block of training because of repeated foot injuries. But in terms of my first year, it wasn't everything that you could hope for but it was a good solid year of improvement. And I was happy with it."
Price said school officials had not provided details about the structure or direction of the club offerings in track and cross country, adding that Brown's running club "has a large membership and assumedly they would allow us to use facilities and things of that nature."
There is a petition online to save the men's XC and track teams at Brown. You can sign the petition here.