Opinion: William & Mary Leadership Miscalculated What Mattered

Editorials are opinions of their authors and do not necessarily represent the opinions of SwimSwam as a company, nor other members of the staff.

On Tuesday afternoon, William & Mary administration, most forcefully athletics director Samantha Huge, had to admit that they got it wrong, when Huge resigned her position amid the fallout of her decision to cut 7 of the school’s varsity sports.

Huge’s calculation, and that of the school, was that their fortunes would be advanced if they could build the school into a recognizable brand in football and basketball.

But what they neglected, and what the alumni of the programs that were cut have said all along, is that unlike at places like Iowa, or Minnesota, or other Power 5 schools that have cut programs this fall, the football fans don’t hold the purse strings at William & Mary.

“‘Football Saturdays’ is not part of our culture,” one alum told me shortly after the swimming & diving program was cut. Alumni don’t get doe-eyed at the thought of making the leap to BCS football. They don’t even sell out their existing 12,000 seat stadium.

Meanwhile, several of the alumni of the school’s Olympic/non-revenue sports have gone on to wildly successful careers outside of sports. That’s what William & Mary alumni are known for. 3 United States presidents earned degrees from William & Mary. 13 members of the U.S. Cabinet have degrees from William & Mary. Ambassadors, directors of major national organizations like the National Park Service or the FBI, founding fathers, CEOs, and the co-founder of Hulu attended William & Mary.

They’ve had a handful of players go on to play in the NBA or NFL or Major League Baseball, but even in sports they’re better known for the coaches they produce than the athletes, including Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin, the United States’ most successful women’s soccer coach ever Jill Ellis, and the head coach of the last 3 NCAA Division I women’s swimming & diving champion Stanford Cardinal Greg Meehan.

Perhaps the school’s most famous athletics alumni was a member of the men’s soccer team. Jon Stewart, the former host of the Daily Show on Comedy Central that reframed the way Americans approach politics, has won 22 Primetime Emmy Awards, which is more than any other individual male in history.

The point is, that it’s not clear that the alumni ever asked for a championship-winning football team. As evidenced by the substantial endowment that covered almost all of the costs of the swimming program, they were happy with their success in Olympic sports.

Even the response to the protests by alumni were disingenuous, with the school painting a worst-case “fully funding” financial endowment picture for programs like swimming that were already doing well without that level of money.

But the hubris of the administration, including Huge, who has quickly climbed the ladder of college athletics, burned too brightly here.

She believed that her future as a Power 5 athletics director rested on building a football and basketball program, rather than the fact that your college’s swim team was winning conference titles and producing All-Americans without athletic scholarships swimming in an unspectacular pool by Division I standards.

And maybe it does. But maybe it shouldn’t. Especially in the modern era of college athletics as budgets across the country disintegrate, there is more skill in an athletics director who does more with less, and produces winners in a variety of sports. That shows true expertise in one’s craft more than throwing huge sums of money at football and basketball programs and hoping you hit gold.

She’s not the first AD that has fallen apart chasing this glory. And she probably won’t be the last. The most infamous example is former Boise State athletics director Gene Bleymaier, who oversaw the building of the Boise State football program into one of the most famous success stories of the modern era, was eventually fired after an NCAA investigation revealed 22 rules violations.

But others, of course, have had success, and have made that jump, and so they will continue to try.

There may not be a universal message here, and nothing that will necessarily help Iowa or UConn save their swimming & diving programs. But the alumni have made it clear: William & Mary isn’t a stepping stone for an athletics director hellbent on proving a point about football and basketball. If you take the job at William & Mary, you better understand that the alumni have their own idea of culture, and if you want their money and their support, you better make sure that you listen to their ideas, too.

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Anonymous
11 months ago

Awesome article. Thank you for inspiring hope in non revenue sports.

olde coach
Reply to  Anonymous
11 months ago

Spot on Braden

NICK
11 months ago

Was the all-in cost of running the swim and dive programs released? What is the cost per student-athlete?

swimgeek
Reply to  NICK
11 months ago

Yes. It was incredibly cheap b/c there’s only 1/2 a scholarship for the combined program (set to expire after this year) and b/c the swim team *already* has a $3 million endowment. It was something like $180K out-of-pocket to WM to run the combined swim program for a season. I believe the admin created a bogus cost figure that would include full scholarships for both teams and a new aquatics facility. But the team is excelling without those expenses.

Ohio swim observer
Reply to  swimgeek
11 months ago

Don’t forget that the athletic department was going to capture some of the swim endowment if they cut the program – ironically, if the endowment is not set up specifically, there is a financial incentive for the AD to cut the program because they can move some of the endowment to the general fund.

Tribe Parent
Reply to  Ohio swim observer
11 months ago

This is a very good point. I believe one of the miscalculations the W&M administration made relates to the hesitation future donors may have to contribute to endowments. What is becoming very public is that even if you donate to an endowment with very clear intent to support a specific program, the school can still legally repurpose proceeds from that endowment unless terms are very clearly spelled out in the event of discontinuation of said program. I don’t believe that W&M will do anything illegal, but in a recent meeting with donors, in response to a question about endowments for the cut sports, a W&M administrator said “when we give money away we no longer get to pull the strings… Read more »

Ol’ Longhorn
Reply to  Braden Keith
11 months ago

Especially those who funded $85 million in facilities improvements for football and basketball in the last 4 years. I seriously doubt that the pledges for the basketball arena will come through. Those endowments for swimming were a pittance compared to the pledges for basketball expansion, with a men’s coach and donors that Huge, a former college basketball player, hired and cultivated. It cuts both ways, but you never want to scare off the big donors. And they just did.

KEWB
Reply to  Ol’ Longhorn
11 months ago

Uh ‘Ol Longhorn you know not of what you speak. Sure as I’m sitting here, those donation are forthcoming. These alums are dedicated and loyal.

Ecoach
Reply to  Tribe Parent
11 months ago

Donors should pledge money for many years instead of endorsing anything.

Ecoach
Reply to  Ecoach
11 months ago

Endowing not endorsing. Spell check !$#

Swimgeek
Reply to  Ecoach
11 months ago

That’s a fair point – but a nightmare from a “collections” standpoint. Much easier to accept $5k today rather than chase the donor for $500 a year for 10 yrs. Also, the $5k is “worth” more today. The whole point of an endowment is that once it’s established, the interest/growth generated makes it -self-sustaining.

SwimFan
Reply to  Swimgeek
11 months ago

Agreed. I worked in non-profit and education for all my career. If the endowment was set up with what would happen if the endowment was no longer needed it would go to the school (who would ever thing the school would steal the endowment) that’s where it would go. If the endowment was set up to go someplace else- say back to the American Legion (go look at the Green Bay Packers, that is the only reason they are not owned by one person, the Legion backed them and if the Packers were sold the money would go to the Legion) or back to the donor (with interest) I bet the swim team wouldn’t have been cut.

New Tribe parent
Reply to  Ohio swim observer
11 months ago

That’s exactly what they were counting on, as many of these 7 programs cut had endowments that paid for a good chunk of their programs. What I read was that the endowments could be rolled into the general athletic find, and would get used to prop up the football team (which loses money every year).

John
Reply to  swimgeek
11 months ago

That is absolutely absurd. It’s a great article. They touched on the things the alums have gone on to do. I would also have mentioned that serious swimmers are often great students as well.

Timothy Raines
11 months ago

Great Article

E T
11 months ago

Thank you for this article! Good read.

VA Steve
11 months ago

Nicely written. There is a pervasive myth that big time football more than pays for itself and funds other programs. This isn’t even true at all of the Power 5 conference schools. It is such an unforced error to cut these programs in the hope of chasing glory in football and basketball that would not come.

Interested Observer
Reply to  VA Steve
11 months ago

Clemson couldn’t even keep a diving team with the reigning national football champs. They had to pay for new pools in the football training room. It is becoming more and more likely that football may not be the goose that lays the golden eggs for the rest of the athletic department

thezwimmer
Reply to  Interested Observer
11 months ago

It wasn’t even that they couldn’t keep diving- they didn’t want to. When Clemson elected to phase out their teams beginning in 2010, there were no Title IX violations, no budgetary issues, etc. The administration simply decided that the Clemson teams “couldn’t be competitive without proper facilities,” and they weren’t willing to upgrade. Rather than continue to support their squads which had produced NCAA and ACC champions during their existence, they got rid of them. Women’s diving was left to struggle on its own for 5 years until it too was squashed.

That facility that Clemson Athletics was ashamed of-

8 Lane, 25yd pool
25yd diving well for additional lanes during competition.
1m, 3m springboards
Tower with… Read more »

Tribe Parent
Reply to  thezwimmer
11 months ago

Sadly, I think this is also what’s going on at W&M. They have been unable to articulate legitimate reasons to cut the swim team. They say it’s financial, but the swim team is almost the least expensive sport to run. There are no arguments that have not been completely debunked, yet they still cling to this decision. I think when it comes down to it, the reason is that they just don’t want to have swimming. I’m hopeful they can’t get away with this. Swimming is so successful at W&M, even those who aren’t ardent fans don’t get it. So many are paying attention now that they have to come up with something legitimate or they will have more of… Read more »

JayKay
Reply to  thezwimmer
11 months ago

That may be true but I highly doubt women’s diving program generated the revenue to be solvent. The vast majority of all sports revenue has to be generated by the football program there. If you want to be mad the football team is no longer subsidizing the diving program or paying for facility upgrades, that’s fine. But let’s be real.

Tribe Parent
Reply to  JayKay
11 months ago

Maybe the Clemson football team makes money, but the W&M team loses over a million a year.

lil' longhorn
Reply to  Tribe Parent
11 months ago

actually W&M loses 3 mil per year, and donations and ticket sales are down for football and bball

JayKay
Reply to  Interested Observer
11 months ago

I find it incredibly hard to believe that football at Clemson isnt laying golden eggs. I would think Clemson football funds a ton of other sports there. Source? If you have one I’ll gladly stand corrected.

Last edited 11 months ago by JayKay
swimfan210_
11 months ago

Great and important article. I think we can all agree on this.

Daniel Smith
11 months ago

Great article.

GOML
11 months ago

Very good article and glad to see the way this is turning in holding the admins accountable for the cuts. Hoping it may lead to a reinstatement of sports, or at least swimming?

I have to ask the obvious question, though……had AD Samantha Huge been a man, would she have resigned/been pushed to resign so quickly? Missteps and mistakes aside (and plagiarizing is bad, m’kay) I can’t think of a single male AD that resigned in similar backlashes, even when lawsuits were brought against them (e.g., EMU).

Bartholomew Roberts
Reply to  Braden Keith
11 months ago

Any AD, male or female, would have caved/been fired, after the campaign got rolling.

Alumni, parents and students all unified against Huge for a number of reasons:

– The tin ear, six minute Zoom meeting announcing the closing of the seven sports. The meeting happened as the students were arriving on campus to start their year.

– The fact that the administration had all summer to make the announcement but kept saying the sports were safe.

– The plagiarized letter.

– The total lockdown of communication after the Zoom call.

– The administration not even allowing discussion of the action on a Parent Facebook page.

– The astoundingly weak and self serving forced follow-up… Read more »

GOML
Reply to  Bartholomew Roberts
11 months ago

Bart…..maybe, but there have just been too many examples of motivated and funded campaigns where the AD actually endured, kept their job, and didn’t bring back any sports. EMU’s lawsuit is the only case I can think ended differently, and the AD is still there (to my knowledge.) To be clear, I’m not trying to defend AD Huge…..actually I think it should be the case that more ADs of both genders receive such scrutiny in cutting programs.

Braden, I agree its a tough question to answer. However….and you may have hinted at this….AD Huge’s career will almost certainly play out outside the role of college athletics. One possible way to understand the role of gender is in looking at… Read more »

Swimmermom71
Reply to  Bartholomew Roberts
11 months ago

I should have read your response before I posted mine! You’re spot on.

Tribe Parent
Reply to  Braden Keith
11 months ago

The alumni have been extraordinary, however, the faculty may have provided the final nail in the coffin for Samantha Huge’s tenure at W&M. They were about to hold a “vote of no confidence” in Huge. They have been completely cut out of strategic planning and determining a new vision, and a new set of priorities for the athletic dept. W&M is academics first, and it was hard to make the argument that athletics was supporting that primary mission when they cut the most academically successful teams on campus. The faculty don’t care to be a football/basketball powerhouse, but no one from admin bothered to ask faculty what they thought. That turned out to be a mistake.

Swimmermom71
Reply to  Braden Keith
11 months ago

Her dishonesty was also evidenced by the fact that she assured the swim team (numerous times) that they would not be cut; the most recent assurance came a mere two months prior to her cutting the teams, but, conveniently, days after tuition came due. She was also happy enough to trot out the men’s swimmers as an example of a winning team when it suited her needs.

DLswim
Reply to  GOML
11 months ago

I would like to think so. Aside from everything else, plagiarism is a serious offence in academia and there is little tolerance for that.

About Braden Keith

Braden Keith

Braden Keith is the Editor-in-Chief and a co-founder/co-owner of SwimSwam.com. He first got his feet wet by building The Swimmers' Circle beginning in January 2010, and now comes to SwimSwam to use that experience and help build a new leader in the sport of swimming. Aside from his life on the InterWet, …

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