By Jason Bryant
Right now, it's very emotional. It's heated, it's angry and it's somber.
On Friday, 144 athletes at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va., got their walking papers as the school announced it was dropping 10 sports effective July 1, 2007.
Seven men's sports, including wrestling, and three women's sports will be removed from the roster of 28 sports at the Shenandoah Valley campus.
Even more stunning was the school's admission that the cuts are to come into compliance with Prong One of Title IX, the 1972 Gender Equity Act, preventing discrimination on the basis of gender in government supported institutions.
That prong is proportionality.
"The JMU Athletics program is unusually large for a public university of our size," said Joseph Damico, rector of the JMU Board of Visitors in Friday's press release. "With so many teams, we faced an insurmountable challenge coming into compliance with Title IX. Fundamentally, that is why the Board voted today for this plan."
Along with wrestling, men's indoor and outdoor track, archery, cross country, gymnastics, and swimming were cut. Archery, fencing and gymnastics were cut on the women's side.
The move will leave JMU with six men's varsity sports and 12 women's varsity sports. JMU, formerly a women's college until 1946, has a student body population that is 61 percent female, while the athletics numbers were 50.7 percent female.
"We explored every avenue in search of an alternative to this action," said Athletic Director Jeff Bourne in Friday's release. "Lamar Daniel, a well-known consultant on Title IX compliance, has worked closely with us and he believes that this plan is our most viable alternative for reaching compliance with Title IX."
The Dukes athletic program will sanction football, basketball, baseball, golf, soccer and tennis on the men's side.
JMU head wrestling coach Josh Hutchens: "The future looks like we're just going to have a handful of sports in college. It's been going that direction. Ultimately, if nothing happens, it's just going to be a handful of sports, football, baseball, basketball and that's all you're going to be able to do."
While JMU blatantly points to Title IX as the culprit, the decision and the way the decision was introduced to the 144 student athletes has some people in a lurch.
Coaches were alerted of a meeting at 3 p.m. at the Convocation Center less than an hour before it was to commence. Coaches had to scurry to inform their athletes to attend the meeting, some of whom were in class or at work.
Shortly after the meeting started, the athletes of the 10 sports that supported the purple and gold were informed en masse that this was the last season.
"I don't understand why "¦ they couldn't meet this summer before the freshmen came?" said 197-pounder Zack Winfrey, a Newport News native. "They've had to have been thinking about this for a while; they just don't do things like this on the spur of the moment."
"It was just rude," said Winfrey of how JMU approached the athletes. "They could just take something away from us that meant so much."
Winfrey said athletes were given a letter describing what had transpired along with another form of literature.
"They gave us fliers with our letter on how we could become a club team," explained Winfrey. "It's bull****."
The senior also questioned the motives of using proportionality as the premise of the cuts.
"There has to be a way to comply with federal law and still be a varsity team," he said.
Freshman Jimmy Mitchum, a Virginia Beach native and former Virginia state runner-up was stunned.
"I was like, this can't be real. This is just a bad dream. It still hasn't really kicked in yet," said Mitchum.
Like every other athlete that was in the meeting on Friday, Mitchum wasn't on a wrestling scholarship. For him, going to JMU wasn't just about wrestling.
Hutchens was a big reason Mitchum turned down scholarship offers from George Mason, Old Dominion and Franklin & Marshall to attend JMU.
Mitchum was expected to challenge for a starting role at 141 pounds, but now has the same dilemma as the rest of the underclassmen at the school.
"I want to stay here and save this, but if that doesn't work out, I will have to make a tough decision," he said. "Either stay here and sacrifice wrestling for academics or leave and keep pursuing my wrestling career."
There is one big question that still remains.
"Why did they invest money into buying us a new facility and new mats if they were just going to shut us down?" asked Mitchum.
The wrestling team had just moved into a new practice facility and is sporting new mats and gear this season.
A quick rewind to the year 2000 will show a previous attempt to drop sports. Eight sports were schedule to be axed from the intercollegiate athletics program when students and alumni revolted; causing the school to keep those eight sports, but remove all scholarships to them.
"I was a little surprised," said Hutchens on Friday in a phone interview with InterMat. "In the past, they'd attempted to drop sports before and it's been in the back of your mind that it was a possibility."
"It was quick and abrupt."
"We've improved academically and with the wrestlers we're bringing in," said Hutchens. "We were on a rise. Everything was moving in the right directions, I was kind of blown away."
Coaches arrived to the meeting shortly before and when Hutchens walked in, he knew something was wrong. He knew.
When did he know? "When I looked around the room and saw a bunch of men's sports "the usual suspects, swimming, gymnastics," said Hutchens.
The decision has already made alumni cringe. One alum e-mailed InterMat on Friday evening saying he was "sickened, but not shocked."
Those sentiments are echoed by former JMU wrestling coach Jeff "Peanut" Bowyer.
"Nothing they do surprises me," said Bowyer of his former employer and alma mater. "I thought in the back of my mind that it would be revisited. I thought the plan implemented back was an unachievable environment."
"The thing that was real alarming was that we knew in 2000 that when we were doing this study, that at the time, the student body was disproportionate to the female side and it alarmed me to notice that in the interim that issue was not address and its even worse six years later," said Bowyer.
Bowyer was one of the leaders in saving the eight sports that came under fire in 2000. Now as the Director of Operations for the National Wrestling Coaches Association, he'll assume a similar role.
"I share the same passion today for saving that program that I did in 2000," he said. "I'm not going to make some of the same mistakes that I made in 2000 in trying to save the program."
"I learned a lot from that experience."
Bowyer alludes to an issue that he knows, not just as a coach, but someone who spent nearly two decades in Harrisonburg "first as a wrestler from Philipsburg, N.J., and secondly as the coach.
"To deny young men the opportunity to attend is a catastrophe in my book," said Bowyer, referring to the downshift in men's enrollment at the campus. "Men should have the opportunity to have the full JMU experience as women. Only 39 percent are afforded that opportunity."
"It's a dynamic and diverse university," he said. "It has lot of positives going for it. It's easy to recruit there. There's a lot of people that wanted to go there that wanted to experience JMU "less and less males have been afforded that opportunity."
Having gone through this before, Bowyer is focused on keeping a level head.
"My advice to them is not to have a knee-jerk reaction. It's traumatic for everybody involved and the experience initially is an emotional setback," he said. "You can't rationally think. The best advice for anybody involved in the decision is to sit down and evaluate what has transpired and why it's transpired."
"A lot of times, it's an emotional situation and you just need to think about the ramifications and consequences of those decisions. I know what some people would like to do "but is that what you want to achieve?"
When the news spread from the Harrisonburg campus to the NWCA's Manheim, Pa., office, Bowyer was already involved.
"I'm no less affected today than when I was at JMU," he said. "Back then, with my employment on the line, I tried to take a less active role, today I'm no less passionate, and am more energized and engaged than before."
"I always thought I could have left and pursued other things at any time. Many of those coaches are quality people that will land on their feet wherever they go. They chose JMU for a reason, I chose JMU for a reason and I chose there to stay after (2000)," he said.
Founded as a teacher's college in 1908, it seems the school might have taken a step back from its origins.
"We're losing yet another place that helps mold teachers, coaches and mentors for our kids," said NWCA Executive Director Mike Moyer, a former JMU assistant who also earned his Master's Degree from the school.
"In the late 70's and early 80's, JMU represented the gold standard of an intercollegiate athletics program. Everybody wanted to be like JMU," said Moyer.
"It's tragic to see how over the last decade, that has completely unraveled."
The fact the school pointed out proportionality as the reason for the cuts could stir the proverbial pot when movements to bring back the lame-duck sports hit.
"The NWCA is committed in doing whatever it takes to get all the programs re-instated," said Moyer. "We're currently evaluating our options and will in a very timely manner, execute one or more of them."
"Three of the men's sports they cut had large roster sizes. The three women's sports weren't conference affiliated and had small roster sizes," said Bowyer. "You get rid of indoor and outdoor track, that's 60 roster spots right there. Swimming has a large roster size and so does wrestling."
In 2000, alumni came to the rescue. Friday's release and meeting had a profoundly different approach from the school.
"They gave us no support on trying to come back," said Winfrey. "They're trying to tell us we can't get alumni support "no way to get financial backing."
"(The school) made it very clear that this is final, there is no negotiation," said Hutchens. "They weren't open to hearing suggestions of alternative means."
"They're basically telling us there's no hope, just give up," said Winfrey.
Bowyer doesn't agree with that assessment.
"If they (JMU administrators) thought today was the most difficult day of their administrative careers "the harder days are yet to come."