PA Athletes Welcome Brown's XC & Track Reinstatement

Unexpected twists and turns along with mountainous highs and valley lows.

No, it's not the new rollercoaster at your favorite theme park. It was, however, one wild ride for Brown University's men's track and cross country teams over the past two weeks.

Only hours into a 13th day as members of the only club teams in their sports in the venerable Ivy League, a trio of former Pennsylvania standouts were among the Brown athletes to learn Tuesday evening that university President Christina H. Paxson had reversed her decision from late last month, returning varsity status to the fall, winter and spring sports.

"Certainly the strangest 12 days of my short lifetime," distance runner Nate Price said of the administrative about-face that came as the affected athletes were preparing for virtual meetings with Brown leadership on their move to club status.

Men's indoor and outdoor track and XC were among the 11 varsity sports that were reduced in May to club status as Brown trimmed one of the nation's largest intercollegiate athletic programs in terms of total teams. Elevating club coed sailing and club women's sailing to varsity status then left the Providence, R.I., school with 29 varsity teams for 2020-21.

As Price and his teammates contemplated returning to campus in the fall as members of a club program or possibly transferring, a groundswell of support from former Brown athletes and the running community started to build. The significance of a Save Brown Track website and an online petition that attracted tens of thousands of names was not lost on the former General McLane runner.

"We've been absolutely amazed by the support from the community," said Price, who was a PIAA medalist in XC and track out of District 10. "Our female teammates, parents, over 500 alumni, former coaches and the nearly 50,000 people who signed the petition all came together when we needed them most, and we will be forever grateful to have such a wonderful support system."

The reshuffling of the sports landscape at Brown was part of the May 28 launch of the Excellence in Brown Athletics Initiative, a "bold plan to improve competitiveness and reshape" an athletics program that won just 2.8 percent of conference titles in the previous 10 years. On June 6, Paxson addressed questions about the plan in a letter to the campus community. And last night, she announced the teams' reinstatement in another letter to the university family.

"We have heard clearly from our community over the past couple of weeks that the University's decision to transition men's varsity track, field and cross country to club status will have real and lasting implications for efforts to build and sustain diverse and inclusive communities for our students at Brown, and particularly our community of black students and alumni," the letter said.

Both letters also stated the primary reason for eliminating men's track and field and cross country was to help Brown remain in compliance with a 1998 settlement agreement stemming from a Title IX lawsuit. This was not the case for any of the other teams that were transitioned out of varsity status.

Brown's 2020 track team also included former North Allegheny pole vaulter Jono Pelusi and Hazelton Area's Joe Grula. Both just finished their second years at Brown, with Pelusi "blindsided" by the initial sports changes announced two weeks ago.

"This has been such a rollercoaster the past two weeks," said Pelusi, who was a WPIAL champion at NA and recently expanded his reach to the multi-events at Brown. "A school that I had put so much trust and faith in blindsided me with this decision. There's no such thing as club multi-events so I could (have been) losing my school and going somewhere else for my sport.

"Once we got that reassurance (that track and XC are back), it was a huge weight lifted off my shoulders. I finally had a chance to breathe. I had my (Brown) family back, my team back. At the end of the day, I really wanted to come to this school, which made it that much harder to think about leaving it. (The club decision) still made no sense, but I'm glad we could get it reversed."

With his athletic future seemingly up in the air, Pelusi was one of an undetermined number of Brown athletes who ventured out to see what other opportunities were available to him via transfer. The No. 4 finisher in the heptathlon at the 2020 Heps was on his way home from an official visit to league rival Dartmouth when yesterday's news was breaking.

"Obviously, I chose this school for a reason," said Pelusi, who recently declared himself as a biomedical engineering major at Brown. "I (also) care about this sport so much. I found so much potential in this new event.

"It really felt like a natural transition, knowing that I had pole vault down and that really good training from Coach (John) Neff in the mid-distance events. I felt I had a lot of general athleticism."

Price said a meeting planned for last week with Athletic Director Jack Hayes "to talk about the transition process" to club status was postponed until Tuesday evening to enable attendance by Brown's president. 

"At that point, we knew something was different, but we found out an hour before the public announcement (tonight), just like last time," Price added.

Price was the only Pennsylvania athlete on Brown's men's cross country team last fall. With a varsity season now squarely ahead of him, he is again looking forward to continuing gains that he has made in his training.

"(My training has) actually been very solid," Price said of his return from foot injuries that curtailed his freshman indoor track season. "Coach (Tim) Springfield has kept up our training plan and has been really faithful in that regard through all turmoil. I have been making real strides in my fitness recently and feeling good on my runs."