Athletes from the eight sports teams cut by Brown University this spring have hired a law firm to fight for reinstatement to the school’s athletic department.
Sports Illustrated reports that Brown student-athletes have hired international law firm Winston & Strawn (which represented Tom Brady in his legal action against the NFL, overturning his suspension in the ‘DeflateGate’ scandal) to represent them, with lawyer Jeffrey Kessler writing a letter to Brown University President Christina Paxson. Kessler writes that his letter is to advise Paxson of the “significant legal exposure that the University will face unless immediate steps are taken to restore these teams to varsity level.”
Brown, which competes in the Ivy League and the NCAA’s Division I, announced in May that it was transitioning 11 of its varsity programs to the club level, while adding two new varsity sports. The cuts did not include men’s or women’s swimming & diving. But only two weeks later, the school reversed course on three sports, keeping men’s track & field (which counts as two separate sports: indoor track & field and outdoor track & field) and men’s cross country at the varsity level. The school cited arguments from students and alumni about the impact those three programs have on student-athletes of color.
Representatives from the eight sports still being cut from the varsity level – fencing (women & men), golf (women & men), skiing (women), squash (women & men) and equestrian (women) – are now calling for their programs to be reinstated as well.
Kessler’s letter accuses Brown of misleading athletes about the school’s intentions to cut programs, arguing that the timing of the announcement made it “effectively impossible” for athletes to transfer to other institutions to continue their sports. In his letter, he claims the University’s actions will make the school liable for actual and punitive damages.
Brown University told Sports Illustrated it plans to respond to the letter “as appropriate.”
“We understood that there would be disappointment among members of the teams transitioning to club status, which is why support for student-athletes has been our top priority since the initiative’s launch,” said a school spokesperson.
While some other schools have cut programs and cited the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic, Brown specifically said at the time of the cuts that they were not a response to the financial impact of the pandemic. Even after the cuts, Brown remains one of the bigger athletic departments in the country, at least in terms of overall sports programs. Brown sponsors 32 total varsity sports after the reinstatement of track & field and cross country.