Opinion: Sam Carlson on Proposed Cut of Mens Track at UMN

To Whom It May Concern:

I remember the first time my cell phone rang, in September of 2013, with a 612 area code. I answered and was greeted by Steve Plascencia, head coach and director of men's cross country and track & field at the University of Minnesota. The excitement I felt in that moment cannot be described. Both my parents were alumni of the University as undergraduates, my father was also an alumnus of the medical school and family medicine residency program at St. John's hospital in St. Paul. My entire childhood centered around Gopher sports; football, hockey, basketball, baseball, soccer, cross country, track and field, and others. Competing in maroon and gold with the block M on my chest was my single highest aspiration from the time I can remember. The opportunity to run for Plaz, for the Gophers, and for my home state, was certainly a dream come true.

I had what some might consider a disappointing athletics career, but I do not. I battled numerous injuries; brief glimpses of success scattered amongst hours spent in the training room. Nonetheless, those were the greatest four years of my life. I was blessed to have met Roy Griak, to have been mentored by Plaz, to meet the closest friends I could hope to have, and to form a bond with everyone I encountered that transcends the short years we spent together. The support I received from Plaz was incredible, never did he lose faith in me. His goal every day was to find a way for me to be successful, no matter the obstacle I was facing. I also learned how to be "snotty nose tough," just like Roy wanted all his athletes to be.

Running is a lonely and painful sport, it requires character hard as iron, and a mental toughness unmatched in many other athletic endeavors. Roy and Plaz not only expected this but demanded it. The majority of the athletes who enter the track and field program at the University of Minnesota do not run professionally upon graduation, we move on to other life ambitions and aspirations once our legs have become too worn out. The lessons, character, strength, and habits learned in athletics are what allow us to be successful. Take a look at the academic acumen of students on the men's track and field team. You will find students in every college at the University. You will see GPA's that are nothing short of spectacular when considering the time commitment of Division 1 athletics. Look at what students have done after graduation when they join the workforce, enter graduate school, and become cornerstone members of their communities. This isn't chance, this is NCAA and amateur athletics doing what it does best, preparing young men and women to excel in more than sports. Roy and Plaz knew this, the current coaching staff of Minnesota track and field know this, and I believe that the administration department knows this too. These are the students who the University will be losing without this program. Without an opportunity to compete on a Division 1 level, they will choose to go elsewhere. The majority of these student-athletes are Minnesotan's, who will now be leaving their home state and bringing their academic and athletic excellence elsewhere.

Amateur athletics, and the NCAA in particular, is about more than dollar signs. Cutting these men's programs seems reactionary and miscalculated. I recognize that NCAA sports depend on money and that revenue sports bring in most of this money. I celebrate the importance of fair and equitable opportunities for men and women in every imaginable sport at the University of Minnesota. But I can't help believing this is an error, made based on decisions which place emphasis on the wrong values.

My experiences prepared me in invaluable measures for my future career. I am now a third-year medical student at the Medical College of Wisconsin, I will be graduating and applying for general surgery residency programs one year from now to continue my medical education. This will be a demanding field, one that I am certain I will excel in thanks in no small part to my experience as a Division 1 athlete at the University of Minnesota.

On my official visit back in 2013, I sat with Roy in his office, while he explained to me that my time at Minnesota would be about more than races and times. Those achievements would come, I would train hard, and I would become faster. More important to him though, I would mature. I would become a man; someone the University would be proud to say graduated from Minnesota. Someone who would be a leader in my community. Someone with character. I would develop a toughness that can only be described as "snotty nose." This term, while a little graphic, accurately describes the mentality of the men and women who have come through this program. It comes from the idea that in the middle of an especially grueling race, when your muscles are screaming, your lungs are burning, and you can't imagine running any longer or faster, you need to wipe the mucus from your nose and dig deeper. The ability to try harder is buried within every Gopher athlete, if only we can dig deep enough to find it.

If you ever doubted the ability of the men who competed for the Gopher's in track and field to dig deeper, I believe you will surely see it now. These events have led to immense heartache and dissatisfaction of our proud alma mater. I believe that the Gopher track and field community will fight this decision and demand to be at the table for discussion surrounding other solutions.

Ski U Mah

Samuel Carlson, class of 2018