“End The Circus”: Open Letter Details Why William & Mary AD Is “Ill-Equipped”

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.

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2 years ago

W&M will announce Huge’s departure today. Call it firing or resignation, doesn’t matter – she’s out

pete kennedy
2 years ago

It appears that incompetence does does not end at the level of the new AD but travels the road to the President ?
Administrators with a preconceived objective hire someone that in old fashion terms is a “patsy.”

Daniel Smith
2 years ago

W&M appears from reading the letters to have issues that transcend athletics and spill over into the senior academic administration. At some point, the alumni/ae, students, and faculty will ban to together to dispose of those guilty. One point: strategic plan. Thos eplans are generally constructed with a great deal of input from all constituencies at the institution, and the pieces must fit toegther. Does not make sense that a three years strategic plan for athletics would suddenly appear via a consultant group, without ample consultation with entire university community, befire being apporved for inclusion to the univeristy strategic plan. The regional accrediting agency, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools’ Commission on Colleges, would need to be informed of… Read more »

Hooter the Owl
2 years ago

Just a disgrace how these AD’s are hired and promoted when there is little talent there. I wish D.R Hildebrand or some reporter would look back into the professional track of Sammy Huge. her and Bernard were awfully close at Georgetown and Delaware — like REALLY tight. Do a little digging there and will be amazed at what is there. Worst kept secret on the UD campus. Ever wonder why an AD as talented as Bernard leave Georgetown for same job at Delaware?

Alum Dad
2 years ago

I chuckle when I see the photo accompanying this article, with the AD walking with members of the men’s swim team. Based on the 4 rings Conrad is wearing, it must be right after the Fall 2018 ceremony where the swimmers were awarded their CAA Championship rings. She sure seems happy to be celebrating a championship, then fast forward just a couple of years …….

2 years ago

Response to ‘Ol Longhorn:
You seem to have an agenda regarding the William and Mary situation. Your criticism of any criticism directed at AD Huge has been noted. It seems that of the SwimSwam readership that have responded to your comments have given them a “thumbs down”.
There’s a reason why.
To get a really thoughtful, insightful account of the situation (and why Huge and company are getting raked over the coals), please go to the Save Tribe Swimming website and read Professor Katherine Gutherie’s Letter to All William and Mary Faculty. Then read a couple of the other posts.
While your comments to date have made me question whether you have an open mind on… Read more »

Ol' Longhorn
Reply to  Tigerswim22
2 years ago

I don’t have an “agenda” and I do sympathize with the swimmers, though it’s not like they got drafted for Vietnam, so they need to grow the f up. I read the letter and comments. A few faculty are upset that there wasn’t faculty or student inclusion in a 25 person committee for strategic planning. Did Huge select that committee? Of course not. She’s been completely thrown under the bus, especially on this website. Did she personally write the plagiarized letter and was the only signee? Of course not, the PROVOST (the chief academic officer) and PRESIDENT also signed off on it, but no one is threatening a vote of no confidence for them. Did she unilaterally decide not to… Read more »

Tribe Alum
Reply to  Ol' Longhorn
2 years ago

So since the three years she’s been at W&M, all those things happening are coincidence?? Absolutely not. She may not be the only voice in the conversation, but she’s the driving force behind these decisions. We focus on her results (which are more than lack-luster) and decisions within the AD. To say that you think we’re criticizing her because of her gender shows how ill-informed you are of the situation.

This is more than just re-instating the swim team. It’s about saving the W&M culture.

Reply to  Ol' Longhorn
2 years ago

Not too often you see someone use sexual assault stats to help support their belief that men are treated unfairly. Nice…

Reply to  Ol' Longhorn
2 years ago

If you actually read the letters, you’d see that “a few” faculty is an understatement.

Tribe Parent
2 years ago

This sounds like financial waste and mismanagement, when W&M’s athletic department is struggling financially. I’d love to hear from another athletic director about these types of expenses. At a school the size of W&M (6200 students), is it normal for an AD to use athletic department funds for an “executive coach” and other consultants to help them with their job? Isn’t that what their staff is for? This is a genuine question, BTW

Reply to  Tribe Parent
2 years ago

Yes, this financial waste by an A.D. happened at an Ivy League university, too. In addition, that athletic director also “encouraged” head coaches to use this “executive coach”. When one head coach saw the bill for services, and where in the budget payment would come from, this head coach was alarmed and upset. The cost came from the sport program’s gift (booster) account.

In short, not only did the university pay for this consultant for the A.D., but the A.D. pressured a head coach to use this same consultant. The bill was paid out of the account that is funded by parents, alumnae, and friends of the program.

Good-natured donors sometimes pay for wasteful and damaging expenses like… Read more »

Ol' Longhorn
Reply to  1he1ruth
2 years ago

Oh, but I thought it was the incredibly ill-prepared Huge was the only person who would do such a thing? As I said, this is fairly common. Changing at a university is like turning an aircraft carrier. It takes a lot of planning, replanning and time.

Coach Gill
2 years ago

I greatly appreciate this letter and article that highlights it. I hope leader pay attention and integrate the concepts/failures/decisions in better decision-making for the growth in any class or program.

About James Sutherland

James Sutherland

James swam five years at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario, specializing in the 200 free, back and IM. He finished up his collegiate swimming career in 2018, graduating with a bachelor's degree in economics. In 2019 he completed his graduate degree in sports journalism. Prior to going to Laurentian, James swam …

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