Let’s be honest: most of William and Mary’s athletic programs tend to underperform. Current students have rarely had the chance to cheer on the Tribe in the playoffs, and when that opportunity does arise, it’s usually followed by a demoralizing defeat.
So, why on earth do we continually ignore cross country, the one sport that has brought in more championships than any other program at the College? That’s right: championships. Not playoff appearances, not early eliminations, but Colonial Athletic Association championships. The men’s and women’s cross country teams have combined for a whopping 64 CAA titles.
In October, the men’s team earned their 19th consecutive CAA championship and their 41st overall. Not only does this mean that the Tribe has been dominating the CAA for longer than some of its athletes have been alive, it also puts the College in possession of the third-longest winning streak in National Collegiate Athletic Association men’s cross country history and the second-longest active streak in the nation.
For their part, the women’s team has garnered a first-place finish in six of their previous seven postseasons, including the 2018 season, for a grand total of 23 CAA titles. This latest victory vaulted the team into a tie for third all-time titles in NCAA Division I history.
So, why haven’t these incredible records attracted more attention? Well, cross country is undeniably less glamorous than football and volleyball, which occur during the same season. Packs of runners traipsing through fields and forests, in and out of view of the crowd, makes poor entertainment for potential spectators. But while the limited attendance at meets may be understandable, the lack of recognition the teams receive for their victories is not.
And while I understand that the monetization of college athletics means that not all sports are created equal, that profits and media attention will always decide which athletes receive recognition, the College’s cross country team is the perfect example of how flawed that system can be. Cross country runners are far and away the winningest athletes the Tribe has seen in years, yet many students are barely aware the program exists at all and that’s a crying shame.
While monetary concerns undeniably play a role, so does the Tribe’s own media relations department. If the football team ever manages to scrape more than a handful of wins together in a season and somehow brings a championship back to Williamsburg, you can bet that Athletic Director Samantha Huge and the rest of Tribe Athletics would broadcast that far and wide. Why haven’t they done the same every year for the past 19 years for cross country?
Perhaps that’s because the football team winning a CAA title is far more uncommon, and therefore may deserve more coverage due to the sheer novelty of the event. It’s kind of like how landing a man on the moon got more media attention than a regular airplane flight; one feels miraculous while the other is an everyday occurrence. And so it is with the football and cross country teams, respectively.
However, as a student, I find it alarming that the College has allowed such consistent displays of excellence to go unrecognized. So instead, I propose that the student body take matters into its own hands. We may never be able to control how much money is funneled into each sport, though if budgets were based on merit then head coach Forest Braden would surely be the highest paid coach at the school. But we can insist that on this campus, hard work and good results aren’t overlooked.
No, college sports aren’t all about winning, but when a single program has 64 titles to its name, someone should notice. The athletics department may value some athletes more than others, but we as a student body don’t have to do the same.