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Olympian Clayton Murphy Cuts Ties with Akron, Campaigns to Save Men's Cross-Country

an image of Clayton Murphy
Clayton Murphy won NCAA titles during his three years as a track and cross country athlete at the University of Akron.

Former University of Akron track star and 2016 Olympic bronze medalist Clayton Murphy has cut ties with his alma mater after the school recently eliminated the men’s cross-country program.

Murphy has launched a campaign to get the university to reverse the decision that was part of budget cuts due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Clayton Murphy recently moved back to Northeast Ohio with his wife and continues to run professionally for Nike. He's also spearheading a campaign to save Akron's men's cross-country team, which included taking out a full-page ad in the Akron Beacon Journal on Sunday, June 28. 

"I feel like I've done nothing but help and promote and be as much of a role model and mentor to guys on the team and representing the university on the stage all over the world," Murphy said. "To see [the university] not speak with anybody clearly, and to not treat the athletes who were cut with respect it was really disappointing for me."

Murphy has since cut ties with UA, revoking permission for the university to use his image for promotional purposes.

"We're looking to treat these Olympic-type sports with the type of respect that they deserve at a university."

The face of track & field
Murphy has been the face of the University of Akron's track & field program since 2014. The western Ohio native said he wasn't getting responses from Division I schools out of high school, so his dad made a "cold call" to Akron. They instantly clicked with coaches Dennis Mitchell and Lee LaBadie.

In his final season as a Zip in 2016, Murphy won the NCAA indoor 800-meter and recorded the third-fastest time in the 1,500. He graduated with an engineering degree in 2017. 

After his junior year, Murphy decided to turn pro and signed a contract with Nike. He went on to become the Pan American Games champion, and beat some of the nation’s top athletes at the 2016 Olympic Trials to punch his ticket to the Games in Rio. He took home the bronze medal, recording the 3rd fastest 800-meter time in American history and the first 800m medal for an American male since 1992.

"I've always been extremely proud when I step on the line at races all over the world to hear them announce The University of Akron NCAA champion," Murphy said.   

The budget and a path forward
Murphy argues the cross-country budget was just $8,000 last year and that the program was actually profitable for the school. He says there were 1.2 scholarships to be divvied up between 12-15 athletes next year. "That means that there's theoretically 14 athletes walking on and paying tuition to the university and that obviously means money in the university's pocket."

Credit The Beacon Journal
On Sunday, June 28, Clayton Murphy took out a full-page ad in the Akron Beacon Journal

And, Murphy says the university declined an offer from alumni to raise money to keep the program running. 

"Without even doing any fundraising -- without me picking up the phone and calling one person [or] doing a GoFundMe, we raised enough money to cover that program for over 10 years plus very easily, without even trying. To not even have the opportunity to be able to privately fund the program is ultimately why I decided to cut ties," Murphy said.   

Murphy says he wants the university to explain the decision. 

"They have yet to come to the table and talk and that's what we're looking for -- a true, honest, transparent discussion of why it happened. We're looking to treat these Olympic-type sports with the type of respect that they deserve at a university."

Below is a response from University of Akron Director of Athletics Larry Williams emailed to WKSU on Monday, June 29:

To the members of the UA track teams that have contacted me over the weekend:

I have read your email and listened to the many complaints that have been voiced concerning the decision to stop having cross country as one of The University of Akron’s varsity sports teams. I would like to offer some perspectives that I hope you will find food for thought.

I certainly appreciate your disappointment. This is a very difficult time and there are many, many folks affiliated with the University’s Athletics program, including me, who share that disappointment. As a former college student-athlete myself, I know the energy that you put into being the best you can be in a sport you love. That intense commitment to excel is a tremendous attribute. And now, for some, not having an opportunity to continue that pursuit hurts. What I would ask that you do in this moment is to both step back and focus in. Here’s what I mean.

Please step back and consider the situation that we confronted when having to make these tough decisions. UA faces the incredibly daunting task of reducing its annual expenditures by at least $65 million. And, we had to do so in the midst of a global pandemic that puts people’s lives at risk, has shattered economies and dramatically reduced revenues to the University. There was no option but to take action and to do so quickly to secure the University’s future. As part of the University’s overall efforts, Athletics was charged with reducing the University’s financial support to the department by $4.4 million, approximately 23%.

To meet this target, we reviewed the entire department and identified many different elements to bring together into a comprehensive package that would yield those required savings. Operating budgets in all areas are being reduced; scholarships in all sports will be cut back; reductions in cost of attendance in all sports are occurring; pay cuts are being implemented throughout the department; and yes, we decided to stop offering three sports, including men’s cross country.

There is one additional area of reduction, and that’s where I now ask you to focus in. We will be eliminating staffing positions within the department, which means – very unfortunately – that some people will be losing their jobs. That’s a harsh reality, not only for Athletics but also throughout the University where others will learn the same news. Every one of those individuals likely will feel that, “I’ve worked hard and done a good job. It’s not fair – why is this happening to me?” That’s a natural feeling, likely quite similar to what you say you are feeling about the cross country decision.

The inter-related expenditure recommendations that I made to the President, and he subsequently put forward to the University Board of Trustees, have been adopted by the Board and those decisions are final. However, I am willing to talk with the leaders of the SAAC and I will coordinate arrangements with them.

That’s the context and the background for the many decisions that had to be made. While I know it is hard, I hope you will take some time to reflect on the situation and be able to come to terms with it.  

Larry Williams
Director of Athletics
University of Akron