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.