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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3 years ago

I feel bad for the athlete’s whose sport got cut, but imo Stanford cutting these sports is a good decision. They are expensive, rare in collegiate competition, & the demographic makeup of these 11 sports is disproportionately white & wealthy. Due to the lack of local competition I’m assuming these athletes are having to fly all around the country on a regular basis (the sailing team apparently mainly competes on the East Coast.) College sports have a reputation of bringing low income and black & Latino students into the school, but in reality the vast majority of NCAA athletes are white & middle to upper class, and often are accepted into schools that are more prestigious than they could get… Read more »

Reply to  Swamfan
3 years ago

The money saved by cutting these programs won’t go towards “paying for first-gen students, Black & Indigenous students, & people from other marginalized groups to attend Stanford.”

Reply to  Braden Keith
3 years ago

Well, yes, I realize that it won’t go directly to scholarships/ aid for students from systemically oppressed groups. My point was more so it it seems irresponsible to spend so much money on obscure sports instead of spending the money on education, research, financial aid, etc.

3 years ago

Wait. What about all the money I spent on photoshopped images of my daughter in a dinghy for the class of 2024?

Math Doesn’t Add Up
3 years ago

If Stanford has a $27 Billion endowment it could run $25 million deficits for almost 1,100 years before it ran out of money. Large schools with massive endowments using Covid to justify cuts to small sports is disingenuous.

Brian M
Reply to  Math Doesn’t Add Up
3 years ago

Here’s a little real world lesson for you. It’s true, Stanford’s endowment is indeed quite massive. However, as with most (if not all) endowments there are major restrictions that come with this money. Endowments are intended to support the academic mission (not athletic) of the university in perpetuity. You also have to take into account that the money is also there to support the mission of the hospital as well. This isn’t just some piggy bank that Stanford can take cash from at will. 75% of the money in that endowment is restricted and they can only take a maximum of 5% a year. They are not allowed to run a “deficit” under any circumstances. Student aid, faculty, and instruction… Read more »

Reply to  Brian M
3 years ago

This is true.

That being said, it’s odd to me, given the amount of money put into that endowment, there isn’t more in the athletics endowment. I would presume that, on average, Stanford athletics alumni are doing better than the average college grad is too, wouldn’t you?

Brian M
Reply to  Braden Keith
3 years ago

I would agree. However, I think many alumni give to the university with the mindset (at least in the past) that athletics would be taken care of. I mean how many people before COVID-19 actually looked up the endowment and budget? Everyone probably just thought that Stanford sits on this huge pile of money, and all is well. In the future you will probably see more direct giving to the athletics department and more emphasis on endowing coaching positions/programs.

Reply to  Brian M
3 years ago

Good segue into the podcast that Coleman and Torrey will be recording today, featuring The Goldman Family Director of Men’s Swimming and the Paul A. Violich Director of Women’s Swimming at Stanford.

Woke Stasi
Reply to  Braden Keith
3 years ago

: Based on the numbers I’ve seen over the past 25 years, the % of Stanford alumni donating (% of alumni, not total dollars) to the university is lower than alumni giving to other comparable universities (for whatever reasons). Also, Stanford (the university) takes a “tax” from gifts made directly to the athletic Department (for “overhead costs” such as roads, police, and other infrastructure use).

3 years ago

Well that sucks

3 years ago

In this article from December 2019 , the good pre-COVID days, 1 in 5 of small private colleges was dealing with serious financial problems. I do understand that Stanford is not a small college, but ever-growing cost of education could not be sustainable for ever and will be felt by every school to a smaller or greater degree. Many school will not only be cutting sports but closing for good. With the average 4-year graduation rates of 35 percent for public universities and 53 percent for private non-profit universities for students who started schools in 2009 translates to lots of money spent with no degree. Even 6-year graduation rates were not… Read more »

Reply to  Tomek
3 years ago

Dare I say it…….do those numbers include transfers?

3 years ago

I remember looking at Stanford’s athletics website many months ago and being astounded by the number of sports the school sponsored. It was crazy. Some of these cuts were surely overdue. If few other schools are participating in a particular sport, it’s hard to justify continuing to spend money to support it.

The Importer AND Exporter
3 years ago

There goes my synchro dreams.

Irish Ringer
Reply to  The Importer AND Exporter
3 years ago

You had great promise too, some might say a prodigy of the sport.

Corn Pop
Reply to  Irish Ringer
3 years ago

Then at 11 they said Nope No Hope. They said a lack of inverted 200′ split leg position but really it was because just not good looking enough . The lifetime ban was very harsh but have you seen the looks it takes to win gold? A fair decision .

Ol' Longhorn
3 years ago

If you want to get really depressed, check out the dropped sports tracker at It’s going to get a lot worse before the new fiscal year starts.

Hank Monroe
Reply to  Ol' Longhorn
3 years ago

All the comments about schools going under, sports teams deserving to be dropped because of losing records and apparently the lack of economic understanding of the readers wasn’t depressing enough, now we should read about the all the sports programs being dropped to get to even a lower place? 🙂
Overall I agree, you can’t shut down an economy and not expect there to be consequences. It’s tough to read the comments about college swimmers coming to the realization that they may miss another season.

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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