JCU track and field senior Joe McNulty creates petition to challenge NCAA verdict

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Associated Press

“NCAA headquarters in Indianapolis.”

Kyle Kelly, Sports Editor

Thursday’s practice looked a bit different than usual for Joe McNulty and several members of the John Carroll University Track and Field team.

After learning that the NCAA was not going to offer a National Championship tournament for Division III teams, McNulty did not begin to stretch or work on his throwing techniques; instead, he authored a petition.

The petition titled “Bring back Division III National Championships” has reached over 4,000 supporters as of Feb. 8 and shows no signs of slowing down.

“I was absolutely devastated,” McNulty told The Carroll News. “There is a feeling of having so much taken away from you already with my injuries. When this happened, it was like a slap in the face.”

To compare the NCAA’s ruling to a “slap in the face” speaks volumes for the senior thrower. Since McNulty’s freshman year, he has torn his meniscus in two places and the cartilage on his femur. Then, in his second meet during his sophomore year, he re-tore everything once again.

Joe McNulty competes in the OAC Indoor Track and Field Championships on Feb. 29, 2020.

On the night of Feb. 3, the NCAA Division III released a statement that cited “low participation numbers” as the reason for canceling winter championships. A chance to compete was stripped away from McNulty and others.

“I feel that we worked so hard to have that feeling of getting another thing taken away,” McNulty said. “I was at a loss for words.”

Not for long.

McNulty eventually found the right words and composed the petition. He received guidance from juniors Lucia Cannata and Garrett Clark and support from Associate Head Coach Daniel Tutskey in writing the petition that was posted on Feb. 4.

It reads as followed:

“On February 3rd, 2021, the NCAA has cancelled the Division III 2021 Winter Championships, for the second year in a row,” the petition reads. “The reason being that there is too low of participation. Athletes of many different indoor sports have felt the effects of this in a very hard way. For seniors this is their last chance at competition, their last chance being a collegiate athlete. As athletes, we look to compete at the highest level. Taking away the National Championships leaves many with a lack of hope along with dreams cut short at no fault of the athletes themselves. We have been working tirelessly to be the best we can with the given situation dealing with COVID-19 and have been tested repeatedly. We want to compete! We as athletes pay to play, our school cannot grant us more scholarship money to compete into a 5th or a 6th year. This puts DIII athletes at even more of a disadvantage than any other division. Please help our student-athletes compete at the national level again. Please give our athletes the chance to do what we do best. Thank you for your time! Please like and share this to everyone you know #BringBackNats.”

Upon the first 24 hours of the petition, it surpassed 3,000 signatures. The outreach has expanded beyond JCU and garnered support from individuals at other competing schools in Division III.

“The spread of the petition really shows you how much athletes want to compete,” McNulty said. “It’s not just our school, it’s not just track, it’s everybody. We come to compete for championships. You can see that spread out between everyone that signed it.”

Aside from the endorsement of Division III athletes outside John Carroll, McNulty recognized the unwavering support from the women’s basketball team. 

“I have gotten some resounding opinions from everybody. [The women’s basketball team] said, ‘Yeah, we all feel this. Someone finally stood up and said something about it,’” McNulty said. “For them, it is even worse. We have the possibility of an outdoor season and having outdoor nationals. Basketball doesn’t have that. Wrestling doesn’t have that. For them, it is literally everything that is 100% gone.”

McNulty understands other schools may not be able to string together enough numbers for a national competition, but that is no excuse in his book. He cited how USA Wrestling plans to host a competition for NCAA Division III athletes.

“I want to be able to compete. I want to have some sort of competition,” he said. “Whether it is from the NCAA or it is from some other committee, I want D-III’s voice to be heard too.”

In the meantime, McNulty plans to get in touch with the NCAA and challenge the administrative committee’s ruling. 

“I don’t know how much weight [the petition] will carry when we try to talk to the NCAA to see what we can do to get things back. If there is one thing it does show, it shows support for D-III athletics,” he said. “The biggest part is the long-term. It’s not just about athletes competing now, it’s about 10 years from now, how D-III athletics are viewed. 

“It is important that we still have our opportunity to compete. Right now, it is unfair to us because we work just as hard as every other division. To have something stripped from us and not everybody else just doesn’t make sense to me.”