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espn.com: Athletes the real collateral damage

The way Antione Drakeford figures it, without Bill Schnier he wouldn't be in college.
Schnier was the only coach to offer Drakeford a track scholarship, allowing the Ohio native to compete for and attend the University of Cincinnati.
Drakeford has rewarded Schnier with All-America honors in the 400 meters this year and a 14th-place finish in the senior nationals at the U.S. championships.


Antione Drakeford will be able to run track at Cincinnati next year, but the Bearcats will no longer offer athletic scholarships.

He also has kept his grades up in his ho-hum major of mechanical engineering technology.
"Track is the only reason I'm in college," Drakeford said. "And running track here has changed my life. The people I've met, the experiences I've had, without it, I'm not the same person."

Schnier, in his 27th year at Cincinnati, will have a harder time making such an impressive impact in the future. On April 20, the coach was told he no longer would have any scholarships to give. The university needed to trim its budgetary fat, and getting rid of the men's track team's 12.6 allotted scholarships would put $400,000 back in the athletic department's coffers.
Schnier's program would continue just as planned, he was told.
Except that isn't true. The Bearcats will compete in the Big East and Division I, but once the current players leave and the final scholarship dries up, they essentially will be a Division I school trying to survive with Division III limitations.
"Essentially our entire team will be quality walk-ons," Schnier said. "It puts us out of business as far as the competitive part of it goes."
For Drakeford, who has gained so much thanks to his scholarship, the news has been devastating. He is quick to look at the bright side -- unlike so many other athletes across the country, he still has a team, and because track has more individual pursuits than team goals, he'll be able to continue to grow next year, his final one at Cincinnati.
But Drakeford has the unfortunate bad luck of being a good person. He's not worried just about himself. He's also worried about his team.
Cincinnati track has tradition. Just this year, former Bearcat David Payne -- a 2008 Olympic silver medalist -- won the U.S. championship in the 110m high hurdles.
It also has recent success. The Bearcats finished fourth in the Big East the past two seasons and have regularly finished among the conference's top five programs. When the scholarships are gone, Drakeford figures, his team will be lucky to finish ninth.
"It's going to change dramatically," he said. "You won't have the same spirit you have now, guys going out and killing themselves and willing to just give up everything for their spot."
Like a lot of athletes in his position, Drakeford also is frustrated. His football team, which is the chief moneymaker at the school, will have a new domed facility by the end of 2009 and his football coach just received a $1.8 million salary boost, and Drakeford said he wonders why the hard economic times don't seem to apply to everyone.
"On the one hand, you feel like the university let you down," he said. "But on the other hand, I'm a Bearcat. That will never change."

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