“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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Former Big10
10 months ago

Do the University of Iowa athletic’s program, next!!! This would be a great time to be an investigative journo… All you’d have to do is look at the financials of Div 1 athletic departments for a few minutes, and you’d have a nice juicy story 😀

Manta520
Reply to  Former Big10
10 months ago

This story gets juicier by the day. #savetribeswimming

thezwimmer
Reply to  Former Big10
10 months ago

Just out of curiosity, where would one go to find the financial records athletic departments (I’m assuming you can only do private schools)?

Savetrive7
Reply to  thezwimmer
10 months ago

All public schools should make all records public and are available through FOIA requests. They also make general financial information available on EADA reports. Not sure about private schools. I’m sure they aren’t beholden to the same regulations.

Thezwimmer
Reply to  thezwimmer
10 months ago

*only public schools

pete kennedy
Reply to  thezwimmer
10 months ago

Actually, the records for public institutions should be open under the statues of most states.

Yaboi
10 months ago

Wow, AD Huge may be the most ill equipped AD I’ve ever encountered.

Pennsylvania Tuxedo
Reply to  Yaboi
10 months ago

Tom Gioglio at Lock Haven University is probably the worst Athletic Director in the country and reading the above gave me flashbacks to the fight of him trying to cut their program.

The fight is worth it! Go Tribe!

Bull
Reply to  Pennsylvania Tuxedo
10 months ago

Scott Wetherbee at Eastern Michigan is worthy of that title!

Jason Bryant
Reply to  Bull
10 months ago

He’s up there.

Brian M
10 months ago

Let’s face it, her conduct thus far would have already resulted in a termination if she were your prototypical white male AD. I quote directly from the press release that announced her being hired by W&M “While Samantha will be greatly missed by our department and university,” said Scott Woodward, director of athletics at Texas A&M University. “I am thrilled for her and for William & Mary, which is getting one of the top intercollegiate administrators in the country. Samantha brings a wealth of experiences to Williamsburg and understands the ever-changing dynamic of the student-athlete experience and the landscape of college sports. She will not only succeed, she will thrive, and we wish her all of the best.” Someone who truly… Read more »

pete kennedy
Reply to  Brian M
10 months ago

You can see by the recommendation the AD was glad to see her move on.

Ol' Longhorn
10 months ago

Love how Huge is the sole target — for the cuts, the plagiarism. Others above her pay grade signed off on both and the BOV went out and hired her. So do these vengeance takedowns, she leaves, and you’re still stuck with the cuts and the people who actually hired her and gave her the green light on everything. It’s the most naive premise in the world to say “Reinstate the seven cut sports teams today.” With what money? They didn’t invent the pandemic or the financial losses the state and university got hit with and continue to project. Grow up.

Coach
Reply to  Ol' Longhorn
10 months ago

I get you’re trying to be “above the fray” here and embrace college swimming’s demise with solemn, stoic acceptance that proves you’re superior to the plebeians wailing in the streets and planning revolution…

BUT

You’re a real downer sometimes.

ALSO

I think the whole point is that Covid is only partially to blame. Fiscal mismanagement has played a huge role in creating their situation and maybe, with the right leadership, the situation could be different. “OMG Covid” can’t be a free pass on everything. Note the large sums of money being paid to the consulting firms (athletic death panels), started well before Covid.

But if you want to continue to come to a swimming website and crank out… Read more »

Ol' Longhorn
Reply to  Coach
10 months ago

I come to a swimming website to read about schools that actually have swim teams. Not rants by ill-informed people who’ve never sniffed at being in upper levels of university administration and whiners.

Swimmom
Reply to  Ol' Longhorn
10 months ago

They still have a swim team at the moment. And looking at the record, it’s a winning team.

Tribe Parent
Reply to  Ol' Longhorn
10 months ago

Try to keep up. These cuts were not as a result of financial losses due to the pandemic. They were due to the decision of the W&M administration (AD, Prez, BOV) to pursue a new vision for the athletic department. That vision is national level success in football and basketball. That’s an unlikely, expensive and losing proposition for a school with 6200 students. The pursuit of this pipe dream has already cost 7 successful teams. It could lead to financial ruin as similarly flawed strategies and outrageous spending has at other much larger institutions. We agree on one point, they are all to blame. Huge, however, is the head of the athletic department and if she isn’t capable of writing… Read more »

Ol' Longhorn
Reply to  Tribe Parent
10 months ago

You at least have kept up that Huge was brought in to change things in football and basketball and she wasn’t operating in a vacuum. But if you think the plan was to cut the 7 teams and that COVID-19 financial disaster didn’t contribute to the need for those cuts, you’re not playing with a full deck. You probably also believe U.S. Presidents can’t get and spread COVID-19.

VA Steve
Reply to  Tribe Parent
10 months ago

Agree, it is a doubling down on a football program that can’t hope to compete (beyond its current schedule/conference), even with the best teams instate. Why not focus on those sports, including swimming, where value for money is evident and the teams are competitive?

ReneDescartes
Reply to  VA Steve
10 months ago

Exactly. Schools w/ AD’s like Huge come in to try and win the lotto (trying to be successful at football), and just like the lotto, you’re going to lose 99.99999999% of the time.

swimmerrr
Reply to  Ol' Longhorn
10 months ago

seriously dude, why are you filling the comments of every single tribe swimming article written. Do you have something personally against the school? It’s really getting old at this point. We get that for whatever reason you personally don’t want to bring the team back. that doesn’t mean your negativity is welcomed on every single article. I’d also implore you to actually read the statements and letters being written. savetribeswimming.com/community has everything you need since you’re so invested in responding to our program, might as well actually learn about what’s happening.

Ol' Longhorn
10 months ago

And if you don’t think academic administrators don’t hire crisis firms when they’ve been green lighted to fire the beloved, but losing football coach, or a strategic planning firm when they’re hired instead of relying on the outdated one done under the previous administration who did not opt to cut the men’s basketball and football coaches (again, absolutely green lighted by the BOV), you’re a fool. She was hired as a change agent. That’s what she’s done. Get over it.

Tribe Alum
Reply to  Ol' Longhorn
10 months ago

It’s pretty obvious you didn’t do you research before making these comments so I’ll help you. Since her tenure, the AD has lost 30% in donations, 12% in Football / Basketball Revenue while costs are increasing ~10%. There’s been turnover in 75 out of 125 athletic positions in the entire department!! All while she’s interviewing for other schools!!!

If you had read the letter, you would understand that there’s a very biased and demeaning methodology behind using these consultancies. The lack of a bidding process and frequent renewals beg questions don’t they? Every which way you cut it, Samantha Huge is unqualified, unprofessional, and detrimental to the W&M Community.

With regards to your “what money” comment, if you’d looked… Read more »

Tribeswim
10 months ago

We are still raising money At savetribeswimming.com/pledge even a few bucks makes a difference!

Ol' Longhorn
Reply to  Tribeswim
10 months ago

Where does the money go when the program does not get reinstated (and it won’t)?

Alum Dad
Reply to  Ol' Longhorn
10 months ago

The pledges are due upon reinstatement of the program. No reinstatement, no funds collected.

Tribe Alum
Reply to  Ol' Longhorn
10 months ago

If you actually did your research and stopped being a buzz-kill, you’d realize that it says where the money goes on the website.

Do you have a life or is your goal to discourage the re-instatement of a top-tier mid-major program?

Swimmom
Reply to  Ol' Longhorn
10 months ago

Wow- if you had bothered to read anything about the WM efforts you would know. It’s clearly stated.

Coach Gill
10 months 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.

Tribe Parent
10 months 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

1he1ruth
Reply to  Tribe Parent
10 months 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
10 months 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.

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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