Ten months after Stanford made the dramatic announcement it would be eliminating 11 varsity athletics programs after this school year, the school has made a surprise reversal.
None of the programs — which included 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 — will now be cut, and as the Chronicle reports, a meeting with the program coaches was scheduled for Tuesday morning.
The reversal comes after months of protest by students, coaches, and alumni, and one week after two federal lawsuits were filed by student athletes in the affected programs. One lawsuit alleged sex discrimination against female athletes, and another alleged that the university had misled students and violated their rights. Allegedly, the decision to reinstate the programs had already been in the works before the lawsuits were filed.
Stanford has long been a university with a deep and broad athletics program. With 36 varsity athletics programs, it has more than all but one other Division 1 school, and in making the announcement last year, administrators said that the cuts were being made for financial reasons.
"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 at the time. "Over time, however, providing 36 varsity teams with the level of support that they deserve has become a serious and growing financial challenge."
The financial argument was countered in recent months by a coalition of alumni and others, in particular after the university paid out "hazard pay" bonuses to its football and basketball coaching staffs for traveling during the pandemic. Opponents of the cuts pointed out that the 11 programs being cut were among the least expensive in the athletics program, and the school's estimate that cutting them would save $200 million was likely wrong. A detailed spreadsheet compiled by one opponent using Department of Education data found that the expenses for these 11 programs were very minimal when compared to the athletics budget as a whole.
Some of the programs being cut, like fencing, volleyball, and synchronized swimming, are Olympic sports that represent part of Stanford's reputation as a hotbed of Olympic hopefuls. The school is considered a leader in the Olympic movement, as the Chronicle notes, and has won 25 straight Directors Cup trophies.
Also, the topic of the program cuts made national news in March after Stanford wrestler Shane Griffith won the national championship while refusing to wear Stanford gear. Griffith, dubbed the "last Stanford wrestler," had been protesting the cuts since last summer and refusing to wear the Stanford name in competitions.
But likely it was pressure from high-profile alumni and donors that ultimately swayed the school to reverse itself, not to mention $40 million that had been pledged by donors to help save the programs. And at least two other schools have made similar reversals in recent months after announcing cuts to their athletics programs, and facing similar backlash from alumni: Dartmouth College and William & Mary.
We'll update this post if and when Stanford releases a statement.
Photo: Jason Leung