Profile in Persistence: Indiana’s Andy Bayer

Take a good look at that photo. That’s a picture of Andy Bayer, a red-shirt freshman at Indiana University and an All-American in Cross Country. What’s even more amazing is that it almost didn’t happen. You see, Andy, like a lot of top male cross country prospects around the country, wasn’t able to get a scholarship to compete at Indiana. So, spitting in the face of the odds despite the fact that he wasn’t a scholarship athlete, Andy walked on at Indiana.

But the story doesn’t end there. Thanks to knee surgery, Andy had to redshirt his entire freshman year. But he healed up, worked hard and came back this year with a vengeance in just his first year in intercollegiate competition, becoming Indiana’s best runner in the 1,500 and 5000 meter races. Everything culminated last Friday night when he finished third in the 3,000 meters at the 2010 NCAA Indoor Championships and cemented his All-American status.

So why am I writing about Andy? Because thanks to Title IX, as theFort Wayne News-Sentinel pointed out earlier today, there are plenty of top flight runners in this country who can’t get scholarships anymore. But of course, that never deterred Andy, who just wanted to compete. Then again, if some of gender quota crowd had their way, student athletes like Andy would simply be denied the chance to compete altogether.

Don’t believe me? Let’s rewind the clock to September 2002, when Bill Pennington of the New York Times wrote about how walk-ons were becoming an endangered species, thanks in large part to Title IX. In the process of reporting the story, Pennington interviewed Marylin McNeil, the athletic director at Monmouth University in New Jersey. Let’s just say she was being excessively candid that day:


”I hated the movie ‘Rudy,’ ” said Marilyn McNeil, athletic director of Monmouth University in West Long Branch, N.J., referring to the film about perhaps the most famous walk-on of all, Rudy Ruettiger of Notre Dame. Ruettiger endured years as a scrub on the practice squad until, as a senior concluding his career, he was allowed into a game for one play, and he sacked the quarterback.

”If you’re not going to get your uniform dirty during games, you shouldn’t be on the team,” said McNeil, who is also the chairwoman of the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s committee on women’s athletics. ”I believe there is still an opportunity for a walk-on to bloom on our teams, but there has to be a cutoff date for those who just want to hang around. We can’t afford it. It’s time to tell these students: ‘You’ve got other talents. Go write about sports at the school newspaper, join the debate team, or maybe you’ve got a nice voice and belong on the stage.’

”Some guys just like to be part of the group. Then 10 years later they will talk about being on their college team, when the fact is they never played.”

I’m sure that if we asked McNeil now, that she would say she wasn’t referring to an athlete as talented as Andy. Then again, considering just how many male athletes are being denied an opportunity to compete either through roster caps or the outright elimination of entire teams, it’s pretty much impossible to know if Andy would have even had a chance if McNeil and others who think the same way she does had their way.

So if you have a moment today, raise a glass and toast Andy and his accomplishment. The fact is, despite the best efforts of college administrators like Ms. McNeil, athletes like Andy keep fighting just for the chance to compete. And when they get the chance, you just never know what they might accomplish.

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