Stanford to Cut 11 Varsity Olympic Sports, Including Synchronized Swimming

Stanford University will cut 11 of its varsity sports teams following the 2020-21 school year, it announced Wednesday. The teams include men’s and women’s fencing, field hockey, lightweight rowing, men’s rowing, co-ed and women’s sailing, squash, synchronized swimming, men’s volleyball and wrestling.

In an open letter to the community, President Marc Tessier-Lavigne, Provost Persis Drell, and Director of Athletics Bernard Muir say that “providing 36 varsity teams with the level of support that they deserve has become a serious and growing financial challenge.” Stanford’s 36 sports are twice the national FBS average.

Over 240 student-athletes and 22 coaches are involved in the discontinued programs, the letter says. The programs have led to 20 national championships and  27 Olympic medals.

Two members of the U.S. Men’s National Volleyball team are from Stanford, where the men’s volleyball team won an NCAA Championship as recently as 2010. Olympic silver and bronze medalist in fencing Alexander Massialas is from Stanford, as is Elle Rogan, the first American rower to win a gold medal in three consecutive Olympics (women’s eight in 2008, 2012, and 2016).

According to the letter, Stanford Athletics was facing a growing budget deficit even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. The deficit was projected to exceed $12 million in the 2021 fiscal year, the letter says, and revised forecasts based on the pandemic (before the cuts) indicated a best-case scenario of a $25 million deficit in FY21. The school also projected a $7 million deficit over the next three years.

Stanford provided a number the “criteria and considerations” it used to determine which sports would be cut:

  • Sponsorship of the sport at the NCAA Division I level
  • National youth and postgraduate participation in the sport
  • Local and national fan interest in the sport
  • Potential expense savings from the elimination of the sport
  • Incremental investments required to keep or put the sport in a position to achieve competitive excellence on the national level
  • History of the sport at Stanford
  • Prospects for future success of the sport at Stanford
  • Impact on gender equity and Title IX compliance
  • Impact on the diversity of our student-athlete population
  • Impact on the student-athlete experience across all sports, now and in the future.

Of the 11 sports being discontinued, six (lightweight rowing, men’s rowing, co-ed and women’s sailing, squash, synchronized swimming) are not NCAA-sponsored championship sports. All 11 sports being discontinued are sponsored by less than 22% of the more than 350 Division I institutions, and nine (men’s and women’s fencing, lightweight rowing, men’s rowing, co-ed and women’s sailing, squash, synchronized swimming, men’s volleyball) are sponsored by less than 9%, the letter said,

There are only two other Division I field hockey programs on the West Coast, and there are no other fencing, lightweight rowing, sailing, squash or synchronized swimming programs on the West Coast. According to USA Synchro, Stanford’s program was one of 23 collegiate teams nationwide.

“I’m overall just confused and taken back that this is their final decision,” one current synchronized swimmer said, according to The Stanford Daily. “I definitely didn’t see something of this magnitude coming.”

With the move, Stanford becomes the latest school (but the first from the Power 5 conferences) to make changes to its athletics department amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Among the more drastic: Brown University announced it would move 11 varsity sports to club level, but has since reinstated three of them. The University of Connecticut is eliminating three sports – including men’s swimming & diving – and UMass Dartmouth is cutting eight sports, including both of its swimming & diving teams.

Stanford’s endowment of $27.7 billion (2019) is the 3rd-largest collegiate endowment in the United States, behind Harvard, Yale, and the University of Texas System.

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Oh my god


Men’s volleyball doesn’t seem right


Ouch! Second most beautiful sport – after basketball. Not many men’s programs left.

It’s actually growing collegiately, but unfortunately, like swimming, that growth is almost entirely at the small college level (NAIA/D3 – there’s no D2 designation in men’s volleyball).

I love volleyball. I think it’s way more beautiful than the modern game of basketball, which in my opinion has too many stops and starts and too much lag. That’s my favorite part of volleyball – the pacing of it. Not many breaks in the action that have plagued almost every other sport these days.


Slightly off topic, but you think today’s basketball isn’t beautiful?? I’m sorry, have you seen the choppy, physical style of the late 90’s to the mid 00’s? That was too much of a start and stop game between possessions and the pace of play was painfully slow with too much isolation sets. The post-modern style that’s been seen since around 2015 is the most beautiful, uptempo, and fundamentally sound basketball probably ever. It’s become much more of a team game as opposed to the stigma attached to it during 2000-2013.


I may be in minority but I do not care for today’s basketball with abundance of 3-point shooting. And talking about too much isolation sets in old days? You probably did not watch much Harden’s game lately

Awsi Dooger

I lost interest in basketball due to abuse of the 3-point shot. It’s no different than football cheapening the sport to cater to fans of the pantyhose passing game. I’m thrilled that my youth featured run-oriented football and big-man oriented basketball. We used to laugh at kids who did nothing but take outside shots. Now that type is rewarded.

Hank Monroe

It’s great watching isolation basketball when Harden dribbles for 20 seconds and then steps back for a 3 or bull dozes into the lane to get fouled.


VB is a great sport. Too bad to it’s cut. Over the years guys have been getting stronger, jumping higher, hitting & serving harder… One doesn’t see as many “volleys” as before or as in Ladies VB. It has more stops and starts in a different way.

I agree to an extent, but at least the stops are brief. I do prefer women’s volleyball to men’s for the reasons listed, though I enjoy watching both.

While the men’s game does have starts and stops, it is punctuated by fevered moments of excitement. As if a basketball game where all of the scoring was dunks.


Still love the game. VB is one of my favorite sports to watch on TV when I traveled to Europe and Asia on business. Some of the top men and women in the pro leagues are amazing to watch!!


Same reason I enjoy watching women’s tennis vs men’s tennis. The men’s game seems like it’s all about the serve.

Awsi Dooger

Volleyball is indeed bigger faster stronger. But I haven’t cared for it since they changed to rally scoring. The side out version was exponentially more riveting. I attended an NCAA championship game in which the score remained the same for 20 minutes late in the 5th game. It was one perfect side out after another. Incredibly tense. These days with rare exception if a team gets ahead by 4 or 5 points the game is essentially over.

It was sometimes riveting, but could at times be excruciating. Have you followed the new scoring they’re using on the AVP (American beach) tour? They play rally for most of the set, then when one team gets to set point, “the Freeze” comes into play. It’s kind of a hybrid. The rules are below. I kind of like it. You reward a team for playing better throughout the set (that 4 or 5 point lead), but don’t make it insurmountable. You also encourage teams to continue serving aggressively late in the set. 1) When one team earns match point, both teams have entered The Freeze. 2) The Freeze means the game turns from rally scoring (there is a point given… Read more »


I personally like the Freeze rule. But if it were adopted by indoor VB, it would favor teams with strong jump serves. One could argue it would favor teams with better defense. In men’s game, the advantage goes to stronger serves.


Our youngest one plays for a club and her middle school. If you thought swimming parents were psychos, you have not seen anything. Volleyball parents are way worse.

I’m in a volleyball coaches forum on Facebook, and have heard the stories. It’s unreal. And it’s not isolated, either. Seems to be widespread.


Obviously I love Texas Swimming, but Texas Women Volleyball is the best show in town.


Not saying you are wrong but your logic is flawed.
The average rally time is 11 seconds in Women’s Division 1 volleyball for example, the average play clock in basketball is…well 24 seconds

Ol' Longhorn

When your W-L record is 40-55 over the past 4 years, you’re begging to be cut.

They’ve had a bad streak. But they were NCAA Champions in 2010, and runners-up as recently as 2014.

Ol' Longhorn

2014 was a LOOOONGGG time ago in NCAA time scales. Timing is everything. If you go into the biggest budget cut year ever at 6-11, you’re going to get cut. Kevin Ollie coached UConn to the NCAA bball title in 2014 and was out of a job in 2018 after back to back sub .500 seasons. Memories are short.

Hank Monroe

I’m beginning to admire the ol longhorn. The hospitals are overflowing in Texas yet he’s still bringing the snark 😉


With that logic, college athletics will shrink at a pretty rapid pace.

Ol' Longhorn

It will, in case you haven’t been noticing.

Ol' Longhorn

Stanford is projecting a $267 million dollar loss until August, and even worse finances next fiscal year. So tell me, Coach, what is your pitch going to be when the grim reaper comes to the athletic department and you’re a minor sport sitting on a 4-year losing record? I’m dying to hear it.


You do realize half the teams in the NCAA in every sport have losing records? So by your logic every 4 years half the teams will get cut

Ol' Longhorn

Is your logic that the financial impact of a pandemic and a recession are going to happen every 4 years? You don’t seem to understand the world of financial hurt that universities are in right now. Most are holding their cards close to their vests and will be announcing their biggest cuts closer to the end of the fiscal year. U. Tennessee has already announced a $10 M cut to its athletics dept. UT-Austin just announced $78 M in budget cuts and the athletic dept won’t be spared. UF just cut its Computer & Information Science & Engineering department and a host of other cuts are on the way. Do you think a losing record minor sport is going to… Read more »


I got an A in Econ 101 but that was a long time ago. If this is a one time thing then they should be able to spread out the current deficit over the next 10-15 years. They can pay for it by slowing down their spending Increases over this time period. They don’t even have to cut to pay for it. Remember back on April 1 when people thought no one would pay their rent? People overreacted about something that never happened. I can see in a couple years the huge surpluses generated and the football coaches getting even more ridiculous salaries


Number of Americans unable to pay full housing payment hit all-time high in July:

Ol' Longhorn

Uh, in Houston our mayor just announced spending $15 M on rent bailouts. Same’s happening all over the country. It wasn’t an overreaction. Take Econ 102, then let’s talk.

Logic is my middle name

TAA — re your “you do realize half the teams” statement — I see where you are trying to go with this but it isn’t actually true. In a given grouping there could be more than half with a winning record if the bottom-dwellers were awful and won zero times or once. Or vice versa. See eg Big Sky Conference football 2019 (the first one that popped up on my google) — 5 winning records, 8 losing records.


While obviously not directly impacting swimming, this might be the worst sign yet. This basically green lights every single other university. If Stanford can offload 11 sports, then it provides justification (real or imagined) for every other university to do what they deem necessary.

Ol' Longhorn

Every single university is getting absolutely crushed financially and it will extend into the foreseeable future. If the cuts don’t come from minor sports, where are they going to come from? Financial aid? Faculty and staff? Cut academic departments (it’s a college, fffs)? Or do you just want to jack up tuition to offset the losses?


There is tons of fat to be cut. How about just make the professors actually teach their classes instead of having a grad student do it. My daughter works in a Math department at her school she said there are 14 full time employees and she says that there is 3 people on payroll for every 1 actual job.


How about both?

Ol' Longhorn

Yeah, those math department salaries are really burning through the dollars. smh

Jane Dressel's Vertical Leap

There is most definitely *not* tons of fat to be cut.


Disagree. There is major “fat” to be cut in huge administrations (strategic planners making half a mil yearly), tenured professors who won’t teach and don’t produce research dollars (250 K per year), and multiple new “student services and learning” programs with multiple staffers per student. Not to mention the football arms race.


I was more just stating a fact, dude. Take a deep breath. As someone that has a pretty significant stake in college swimming and college athletics as a whole, this is bad news. It’s ok to just state that, even if it is a bit obvious, right?

Ol' Longhorn

“Imagined” justification? That’s what got me. It ain’t imagined — it’s real. Hopefully, that’s obvious to you, right?


It’s not obvious that cutting programs will be the right call for every university that chooses to go that direction. Do you really think every program across the country that has been cut or will be cut in the near future is 100% the right call? There were no other possible solutions?

Is there a real crisis? Absolutely. Are their times when cutting programs is the only option left? Yes.

Are program cuts the only or even the best solution in every instance? Of course not. There seems to be very little in the way of creative solutions being attempted right now.


Decades long ago college was about going and getting an education to make something of yourself. Sports (like football even) were a past-time and were seen as a way to well-round the student. We have fallen off track with our priorities for some time now. This was bound to happen at some point. Athletics has become to big in this country and we have lost sight of what really matters.


D3 still treats sports that way

About Torrey Hart

Torrey Hart

Torrey is from Oakland, CA, and majored in media studies and American studies at Claremont McKenna College, where she swam distance freestyle for the Claremont-Mudd-Scripps team. Outside of SwimSwam, she has bylines at Sports Illustrated, Yahoo Sports, SB Nation, and The Student Life newspaper.

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