Haskell Indian Nations University has canceled its upcoming track and field season, and the program will remain offline indefinitely.
The decision to suspend track was a topic of debate at Thursday’s Haskell Board of Regents meeting.
At the recommendation of Haskell’s athletics department, Haskell President Venida Chenault last month approved placing the program in “abeyance.”
The track and field program costs roughly $8,000 a year plus coaching salaries, so it’s a small percentage of the school’s overall athletics budget, according to Board members.
But Chenault said several factors in addition to money — including competitiveness and facilities — played into the decision to suspend the program.
“We are competing with schools that invest millions of dollars in their programs, and we are always the Davids facing the Goliaths,” she said.
“Track and field, running, is a sport that we’ve historically excelled in. How do we rebuild that program?”
Chenault said Haskell must use its limited finances efficiently across the whole school and ensure the programs it has meet its standards of “excellence.”
Haskell’s track and field facilities also are lacking.
The track is only six lanes, when the current collegiate standard is eight, but the historic Haskell Stadium where it’s located is not big enough to expand the track. Chenault said the school lacks a high jump pit or a true javelin or discus pit, though the school has made due.
Finally, Haskell lacks a permanent athletics director to provide ongoing leadership, and doesn’t know when it will be able to hire one, she said. This year, the federal government enacted a hiring freeze for employees in that classification category, and Haskell can’t hire someone for the position without getting a waiver from Washington, D.C.
The last permanent athletic director, Todd Davis, resigned a year ago. Gary Tanner is acting athletic director.
“We’re working diligently to get a new AD hired,” Chenault said. “That individual should have some say about the direction of the program and what they see as the strengths and weaknesses.”
Several Haskell students attended Thursday’s board meeting to protest the decision to suspend track and field.
While board members said they believe the athletics department and Chenault followed the appropriate administrative process in making their decision, the board passed a resolution asking Haskell to revisit the decision and to identify actions required to offer it in 2017-18.
Regent Ryman LeBeau, an alternate representative from the Great Plains region, said the Haskell Foundation should approach tribes and raise funds for track.
“I don’t think cutting this program out is a solution,” he said. “We need to have this rebuilding year. Moving forward, we need to know how we’re going to make it better, not take it away.”
Regent John Bush, Western Region representative, said he understood the importance of excellence but also disagreed with the decision to suspend track.
“I’m really kind of disappointed,” Bush said. “I see a trend that’s happening here ... where we’re starting to eliminate sports here at Haskell, and I don’t think that’s a good trend.”
Track and field is the second sport Haskell has cut in recent years.
Football was suspended beginning in fall 2015, also indefinitely, largely due to lack of money for equipment needed to ensure athlete safety and adequate facilities, namely the stadium.
Seven sports teams remain active at Haskell: men’s and women’s basketball, men’s and women’s cross country, men’s golf, women’s volleyball and women’s softball.
Neither football nor track and field have been permanently eliminated at Haskell, university spokesman Stephen Prue said. Haskell must notify the NAIA each spring about which programs it plans to offer for the coming year.