It’s been just about a month since the College of William & Mary announced that it would be cutting seven sports at the end of the 2020-21 season, including men’s and women’s swimming & diving, and certain details have been coming to light on why this decision was made.
Several members of the school’s administration have come under fire for the cuts, and perhaps none more so than Athletics Director Samantha Huge.
It was learned on September 19 that Huge plagiarized part of a Stanford release when announcing the cuts, and now, some more harrowing details have been revealed.
In an open letter directed to “William & Mary President Katherine Rowe, the Board of Visitors and the College Community”, alumni member and former W&M swimmer D. R. Hildebrand outlines why Huge is “ill-equipped for the position”.
Hildebrand goes into detail on how Huge, immediately after taking over the position, began receiving assistance from “Paradigm Four”, a crisis management firm based in Atlanta. Payments have continued up until today, with the total in excess of $140,000.
“If Ms. Huge was indeed prepared to lead Athletics, why was she receiving outside assistance from the moment she arrived?,” he says.
Huge then hired another consulting firm, “The Pictor Group”, in January of 2018. For $45,000, the firm would create a strategic plan over a six-month period for Huge, despite the fact a 10-year-plan had been put in place three years prior.
There is no request for a proposal from either firm that is publicly available.
The letter also notes that Huge seemingly did not seek competitive negotiation for these services, against William & Mary’s procurement guidance, and that the engagements with the two firms appear “furtive at best”.
The services were also paid upfront for Pictor, over two weeks before the firm’s consultants were ever even on campus. “As is the case with most consulting practices that are meant to serve the public interest, we expect the scope of services to be satisfactorily delivered prior to payment of said consultant,” says Hildebrand.
He then details several observations on some of Pictor’s “disconcerting features”, including that the staff had little experience, the majority of the staff consisted of previous athletics directors, the majority of staff had prior experience with Huge and several of their clients consisted of school’s staff members had previously worked for. He adds on some information about certain staff members’ questionable pasts.
“Did no one at the College research any of this, or did no one at the College care?,” he said.
The letter also goes into how several coaches, when interviewed with Pictor, “described the meetings as ‘confusing,’ ‘a waste,’ ‘disorganized,’ and ‘unprofessional'”. The plan that the firm came up with for the school “is difficult to locate any insights about the College or its athletic programs that cannot be gleaned from the internet.”
Just as Pictor was supposed to finishing up its six-month review, which the college says lasted 16 months, Huge released another request for assistance. The proposal’s “Statement of Needs” listed 10 things, including “Department / Athletics Director Leadership”.
“Is this not, in large part, what we pay Ms. Huge and her staff to do? Ms. Huge has also created no fewer than seven new positions in the department—giving her yet more help,” says Hildebrand.
At least three vendors submitted proposals, and all three listed got contracts (and renewals). The proposal from Paradigm was particularly shocking,
“Paradigm submitted hand-written scribble, plus a synopsis of the firm and its ability to assist athletic directors with—among other things— ‘fiscal planning and the elimination of sports’.
“To confirm, we paid someone to guide our athletic director in the process of eliminating teams?”
Huge has made payments to Paradigm and Zelos, while there are no payments on record to Collegiate “despite Ms. Huge renewing its contract in response to its proposal for $135,000 plus add-ons”.
Correction note: a previous version of this article claimed that Collegiate had received payments from William & Mary. There is no evidence of this and Collegiate denies that they’ve received any payment.
Collegiate claims to have never been paid or completed any work for the school. After being told they were selected as a vendor, they never heard back from William & Mary.
They were also previously aware that Pictor had worked with W&M for strategic planning, and reached out to them asking if they wanted to partner.
“Whether the funds to pay these firms was privately donated or siphoned from the athletic budget is yet another ambiguity, as the College’s audits make no mention of said consulting fees.”
The letter links an article from The Intercollegiate that says Collegiate’s niche “is in helping ‘D-I programs seeking membership in a different conference. Often, the firm is hired when a new athletic director or university president comes into a job…’.”
“Is William & Mary changing conferences?,” adds Hildebrand “Is this the reason for securing three consulting firms, each with the potential to receive contract renewals through 2023? Is this why so much attention has been given of late to football and basketball?”
Ultimately, the open letter asks that enough is enough, and that Huge is clearly in over her head. Hildebrand also asks that the seven sports be reinstated in order to begin to build back trust with the community.
The final five paragraphs summarize everything fairly well:
Rather than confronting these issues and holding Ms. Huge accountable, assistance to Ms. Huge keeps coming. On September 23, after Ms. Huge admitted to, and then excused, her plagiarism, President Katherine Rowe attempted to suppress public outrage by announcing that Ms. Huge will now receive additional guidance from General Jim Golden.
Is this a college or a kindergarten? How many outsourced resources can we grant before we call into question the Director’s capacity to own the job at hand? How can we trust that Ms. Huge has even engaged with the material enough to understand the unique qualities of our program? Why does the Athletic Director, whom Mr. Pulley made clear we were not in a position to train, demand so much help? How does coddling a leader foster confidence or trust in one’s staff?
If the College community’s widespread embarrassment and distrust are not yet abundantly clear, there is little else that can possibly elucidate the matter. The longer the College pretends not to see the emperor’s new clothes and authorizes this charade to continue, the longer it will take to regain the trust of its students, alumni, faculty, and the local community, and carve an acceptable path forward.
End the circus. End the silence. End the secrecy. Stop listening to every expensive consultant and out-of-touch advisor and start listening to the chorus of people who make this fine institution what it is. Without them—without their trust, without their support—everything you endeavor will be in vain.
Reinstate the seven cut sports teams today. This, above all else, will affirm your commitment, improve the confidence of stakeholders, and open dialogue that will forge a new and agreeable strategy suitable for the type of institution William & Mary once was, and must once again be.
You can find this open letter, along with several others written since the cuts, on the Save Tribe Swimming website here.