In what they’re referring to as “streamlining,” NCAA Division I George Washington University is cutting 7 of its 27 intercollegiate athletics programs, including women’s water polo. Those cuts will be made at the end of the upcoming 2020-2021 season, meaning that athletes in the impacted sports will have the option for a final season before elimination. The school’s swimming & diving programs and men’s water polo program will not be eliminated.
- Men’s rowing
- Men’s Squash
- Women’s Squash
- Men’s Indoor Track
- Men’s Tennis
- Women’s Water Polo
The school says the decisions came after a “comprehensive review” of the schools’ programs. The school is expecting a nearly $200 million gap between expected revenues and expenses for the upcoming fiscal year. They did not say how much savings they anticipated from the elimination of these programs. George Washington University does not sponsor a football program, meaning that the pending losses of revenue from the fall football season does not impact their decisions directly.
The Atlantic 10 Conference, of which GWU is a member, announced earlier this month that it would push all scheduled fall season sporting events in conference-sponsored sports to the spring semester. None of the impacted sports are Atlantic 10 Conference fall-season sports. The school has moved all of its fall semester classes online.
The cuts will be made at the conclusion of next season, which is crucial given the late timing that would make it very difficult for student-athletes to transfer for the upcoming season. The school says that “if it becomes safe to do so,” they will be able to compete during this season.
Criteria for comprehensively reviewing all programs included:
- Impact on gender equity and Title IX compliance.
- Sponsorship of the sport at the NCAA Division I level.
- Number of teams competing nationally in the sport.
- GW history of the program.
- Prospects for future success at GW.
- Community engagement level and potential the sport brings to the university.
- Potential expense savings if the sport is discontinued.
- Investments required to keep the program at, or bring the program to, the desired level of excellence.
- For our non-NCAA teams, whether they may have the ability to continue competing as GW club programs in the same competitions and/or conferences against similar opponents moving forward.
The school says that the 4 non-NCAA sports, men’s rowing, sailing, and men’s and women’s squash, can continue to compete in the same conferences as club sports as they did as varsity programs.
As has become the norm in these announcements, the school says that the decision “is final” and that no fundraising efforts will be able to save their future. They did, however, say that they believed donations to fund the sports as club programs could allow them to continue to thrive.
The GW women’s water polo team finished the shortened spring 2020 season with a 5-7 record. They played two ranked teams in that span, losing to #17 Wagner and #20 Princeton. In the team’s last full season in 2019, they went 6-15 and lost all 3 games they played in the CWPA Championship tournament, which is the school’s conference for women’s water polo.
At GW, athletics is one of our most visible displays of discipline and excellence. For more than a century, our Athletics Department has helped to develop countless student-athletes who are role models in competition and in the classroom, and they have served as leaders on our campuses and beyond. Rooting for the Buff and Blue has long brought our community together to celebrate one another and our GW spirit.
Over the years, GW Athletics has grown considerably. We have added several sports and greatly expanded the number of student-athletes we support. Today, with more than 500 student-athletes in 27 varsity intercollegiate programs, GW sponsors more programs than any of our peers in the Atlantic 10 Conference. Although we value the breadth of our offerings and the opportunities they have created for many, they have increasingly strained resources, limiting support across all programs and creating growing financial concerns.
Given the importance of our commitment to providing a world-class student-athlete experience and supporting our teams in achieving at the highest levels of excellence, during this past year GW leadership undertook a comprehensive review of our programs. By the spring, this work had become imperative, as we strained to manage the current and projected financial impacts of COVID-19, which this fiscal year will create a significant gap between expected revenues and expenses of at least $200 million.
Having now concluded our review of all programs and with the urgency caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, we are writing today with difficult news. In consultation with the Board of Trustees and GW leadership, we have determined that we must reduce our athletics teams from 27 to 20, effective at the conclusion of the 2020-21 academic year. The non-NCAA sports of men’s rowing, sailing, men’s and women’s squash, and the NCAA sports of men’s indoor track, men’s tennis and women’s water polo will have the opportunity to compete in their upcoming 2020-21 seasons, if it becomes safe to do so, but they will be discontinued at the conclusion of their respective seasons. We have already informed the impacted student-athletes of this news, and provided that there is suitable student interest and self-sustaining financial support that ensures health, safety and well-being, we will support these programs in their transition to club sports.
We understand how disappointing this is for many in our community, especially for the students whose GW athletics careers will be shortened, for our coaches and support staff, and for the alumni who helped build these programs. We also recognize the additional burden caused by the timing of this decision, when many are experiencing the uncertainty and stress of the pandemic. Still, we felt it important to talk directly with those affected to provide as much flexibility as possible to plan for the coming academic year and beyond, and to communicate transparently with our broader community. As hard as this decision was, we believe it is necessary to strengthen athletics and position our programs for future success with the resources we have.
We are committed to caring for those affected through this transition. All existing athletics scholarship aid will continue to be awarded to the affected student-athletes through their graduation at GW. We hope that our students continue their education at GW. However, should any student-athletes from the affected teams choose to transfer to another institution, we will support them in every way possible. We will also provide mental health and other counseling resources throughout the year.
Our student-athletes who have represented the Buff and Blue over these many years have helped to build a deep and lasting legacy of achievement during their time at GW, and their history will always be honored and celebrated within the GW Athletics family and our GW community.
We are providing more information about the review process we undertook and the future of athletics at GW below and Frequently Asked Questions.
Discipline and Excellence
Our charge for discipline extends to being prudent stewards of GW resources. We needed to optimize our available resources and allocate them appropriately to build and sustain excellence in athletics. By supporting fewer programs, we will be better equipped to provide a world-class student-athlete experience, and our student-athletes will have greater access to important resources, such as strength and conditioning, sports medicine and academic assistance.
During our review process, we considered many options to sustain all varsity teams, including increasing ticket sales, philanthropic support and corporate sponsorship. However, it is impossible for these areas to produce the funding necessary to achieve the long-term success that our students, alumni, and supporters deserve.
We believe this path will secure a more sustainable financial future that will allow GW Athletics to better fulfill its mission. We also are mindful that while we do not expect to take additional action at this time, it could be necessary if the COVID-19 pandemic and the financial impact worsen.
We made these decisions after a principled process in which all of our programs were reviewed comprehensively. We considered, in part, impact on gender equity and Title IX compliance, sponsorship at the NCAA Division I level, history of the sport at GW and prospect for future success, engagement level, expense savings and other factors.
GW Athletics in the Future
GW Athletics has been and will remain one of our university’s most important drivers of school pride, spirit, and engagement.
We are confident that these changes, while difficult, will allow us to move forward with organizational and financial resiliency, greater agility and success in our demanding pursuits. We will enhance the recruitment and retention of our student-athletes, better support them in achieving the highest levels of success, and improve club sports opportunities for all students.
All of our programs have contributed to the proud history of GW Athletics and the strong position we are in today. Moving forward, we are committed to continuing to strengthen GW Athletics as our visible display of discipline and excellence far into the future.
Thomas J. LeBlanc, President
M. Brian Blake, Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs
Mark Diaz, Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer
Tanya Vogel, Director of Athletics