As a budget-tightening measure partly brought on by the pandemic, Stanford University announced Wednesday that it will be cutting 11 of its 36 varsity sports programs, along with 20 associated support staff positions.

"Our goal is to provide excellent support and a world-class experience for our student-athletes in the sports that we offer," said University President Marc Tessier-Lavigne, Provost Persis Drell, and Athletic Director Bernard Muir in a joint statement. "Over time, however, providing 36 varsity teams with the level of support that they deserve has become a serious and growing financial challenge."

"We now face the reality that significant change is needed to create fiscal stability for Stanford Athletics, and to provide the support we believe is essential for our student-athletes to excel," the officials say.

Stanford currently supports more varsity sports programs than all but one other Division 1 school in the country, and the average number of varsity programs among Division 1 schools is 18. And that one other school with more varsity programs has "a significantly larger budget," the officials say.

Calling the news "heartbreaking," and citing that it will impact some 240 student-athletes and 22 coaches, the school announced an end to the following 11 programs after the 2020-21 school year: men’s and women’s fencing, field hockey, lightweight rowing, men’s rowing, co-ed and women’s sailing, squash, synchronized swimming, men’s volleyball, and wrestling.

The school said that it will continue to honor all scholarship agreements throughout the undergraduate careers of the athletes in those programs. And it says that the above programs will continue to compete during the upcoming school year "should the circumstances surrounding COVID-19 allow it."

As KPIX notes, the school's men's volleyball team won national championships in 1997 and 2010, and teams from the programs to be cut have collectively won 20 national championships. Also, alumni from these programs have gone on to win 27 Olympic medals.

The university cites ongoing financial challenges for the cuts, saying that athletic programs have been under review since before the pandemic began. "Due to the escalating costs of operating such a large athletics department, a structural deficit emerged several years prior to the COVID-19 pandemic," the school says. "That deficit was projected to exceed $12 million in FY21 and to grow steadily in the years ahead. The COVID-19 pandemic and associated recession have only exacerbated the gap; before these sport reductions, our revised forecasts indicated a best-case scenario of a $25 million deficit in FY21, factoring in the effects of COVID-19, and a cumulative shortfall of nearly $70 million over the next three years."

"While Stanford may be perceived to have limitless resources, the truth is that we do not," the school says.

Photo: Ashim D'Silva