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“This is a pretty huge East African community. A lot of these Africans don’t play basketball or football so this is their way of getting that opportunity at that highest level…I feel like one of the reasons they were able to bring back outdoor track was that they knew the amount of damage this would cause. But still, we need indoors as well because we want to be equal.”
Obsa Ali is the 2018 NCAA outdoor steeplechase champion out of the University of Minnesota. I wanted to get him on the show because last Friday, the University of Minnesota’s Board of Regents voted to approve a resolution to eliminate the men’s indoor track and field, men’s tennis and men’s gymnastics teams at the end of the 2020-21 school year. A revised proposal that was submitted on Friday removed men’s outdoor track and field from the cuts that were first announced in September.
The university said the athletic department was facing a projected revenue loss of approximately $75 million and what do these three cuts end up saving? An approximate $1.6 million dollars, which alums and others have already been able to fundraise independently in an effort to save the track team. Obsa was in the room when the decision was made so I wanted to get his account of that day, his feelings and where the fight goes from here.
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Episode Artwork Photo by Al Lacey for Youth Runner Magazine.
The immediate reaction to the decision by the Board of Regents
“My immediate reaction was still, ‘This makes no sense.’ It’s still a loss. Nobody in their right mind would come to that university and sit out indoors to race outdoors. For an athletic director who wants to be competitive in the Big Ten, by cutting indoors and keeping outdoors made no sense to me. Still, a few days later, it makes zero sense to me. I’m sure everybody is on the same page about that. I don’t know how he was able to come up with that and justify it.”
Minnesota Had 20 Indoor All-Americans Last Year
“We have a history of being one of the most competitive schools in the Big Ten when it comes to indoor track and field.”
The strange recruiting pitch for Minnesota now
“I tried to put myself in those shoes. If I was coming out of high school and had an opportunity to run for the University of Minnesota, what would my thought process be if I was being recruited by them? The answer would be no, right? I’m not willing to sit out indoors and watch my competitors run fast times and compete. The reason I want to go to that level is that I want to compete at the highest level every chance that I get. For me, to sit out indoors and watch my competitors compete and put out times and twirl my thumbs until outdoors, that’s not something I’d be willing to do. I wouldn’t blame any prospect who doesn’t want to come there. It’s obvious that this is going to hurt recruiting a lot.”
Being a first-generation college student and immigrant from Ethiopia
“It was perfect for me because my mom is here by herself. For me, being close to her was the deciding factor of where I was going to go for school. The fact that I had that opportunity and it was one of the best schools and a very great program, it was a no-brainer. For people who are in the same shoes as me, it’s going to put them in a very hard situation.”
The impact on diversity and opportunity at Minnesota
“My introduction to the university was through Hassan Mead when I was watching him at the Olympic Trials in 2012. To see somebody who is like me having that opportunity close to home just changed everything. It said I can be that person. I wanted to go there. I met coach Plaz (Steve Plasencia). He told me what Hassan was doing and how he got Hassan from where he was to where he is now. I fell in love with the university and the city. I’m sure there is somebody out there looking up to people like me and people like Hassan and Harun (Abda) and Goaner (Deng). This is a pretty huge East African community. A lot of these Africans don’t play basketball or football so this is their way of getting that opportunity at that highest level…I feel like one of the reasons they were able to bring back outdoor track was that they knew the amount of damage this would cause. But still, we need indoors as well because we want to be equal.”
Concern Among the Women’s Team and Possible Cuts
“The thing about that administration is that everything is so last minute. If I was a woman on the team, I’d be very concerned because historically speaking and since (athletic director Mark Coyle) overtaken that university, the numbers from the women on the cross country and track team has gone down drastically.”
What Message Would He Pass Along To Those Concerned About Their Programs
“If I were a coach or even student-athlete, I would go to the athletic director. Any student-athlete can go to the athletic director and talk to them if they’re a good AD. I would ask the athletic director to be as transparent as possible with their coaches and their athletes. That’s the only way to lead as a good leader. Show them what it’s looking like. If it’s looking like in the future that they might have to cut a team or two, there could be an alternative. We did show that.”
Support for this episode comes from Bakline Running. We’re excited to partner with this Brooklyn-based company that’s making active lifestyle and streetwear-inspired apparel. I’m racing a mile in their performance singlet soon but their hits are their shirts, graphic tees and designs with inspiring mantras like “Me vs Me”; “Nothing But Miles”; “The Future Is Female Runners” and more.
Check them out at https://www.bakline.nyc/ and use code CITIUS for 15% off at checkout.
If you’re interested in sponsorship of the podcast or site, please reach out to Chris Chavez at [email protected]. Package and slots for the remainder of 2020 and 2021 are available.