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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Monteswim
1 year ago

Oh my god

Taa
1 year ago

Men’s volleyball doesn’t seem right

PsychoDad
Reply to  Taa
1 year ago

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

Admin
Reply to  PsychoDad
1 year ago

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.

HUNTLEYJOnes
Reply to  Braden Keith
1 year ago

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.

Tomek
Reply to  HUNTLEYJOnes
1 year ago

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
Reply to  Tomek
1 year ago

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
Reply to  HUNTLEYJOnes
1 year ago

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.

NEWTOSWIMSWAM
Reply to  Braden Keith
1 year ago

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.

Admin
Reply to  NEWTOSWIMSWAM
1 year ago

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.

NEWTOSWIMSWAM
Reply to  Braden Keith
1 year ago

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!!

SwimFan49
Reply to  NEWTOSWIMSWAM
1 year ago

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
Reply to  NEWTOSWIMSWAM
1 year ago

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.

Admin
Reply to  Awsi Dooger
1 year ago

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 »

NEWTOSWIMSWAM
Reply to  Braden Keith
1 year ago

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.

PsychoDad
Reply to  Braden Keith
1 year ago

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.

Admin
Reply to  PsychoDad
1 year ago

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.

PsychoDad
Reply to  Braden Keith
1 year ago

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

highswimcoach
Reply to  Braden Keith
1 year ago

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
Reply to  Taa
1 year ago

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

Admin
Reply to  Ol' Longhorn
1 year ago

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

Ol' Longhorn
Reply to  Braden Keith
1 year ago

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
Reply to  Ol' Longhorn
1 year ago

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

Coach
Reply to  Ol' Longhorn
1 year ago

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

Ol' Longhorn
Reply to  Coach
1 year ago

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

Ol' Longhorn
Reply to  Coach
1 year ago

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.

Taa
Reply to  Ol' Longhorn
1 year ago

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
Reply to  Taa
1 year ago

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 »

Taa
Reply to  Ol' Longhorn
1 year ago

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

Walter
Reply to  Taa
1 year ago

Number of Americans unable to pay full housing payment hit all-time high in July:
https://www.cnbc.com/2020/07/08/32-percent-of-us-households-missed-their-july-housing-payments.html

Ol' Longhorn
Reply to  Taa
1 year ago

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
Reply to  Taa
1 year ago

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.

Coach
1 year ago

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
Reply to  Coach
1 year ago

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?

Taa
Reply to  Ol' Longhorn
1 year ago

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.

DravenOP
Reply to  Taa
1 year ago

How about both?

Ol' Longhorn
Reply to  Taa
1 year ago

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

Jane Dressel's Vertical Leap
Reply to  Taa
1 year ago

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

ShrimpNgrits
Reply to  Jane Dressel's Vertical Leap
1 year ago

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.

Coach
Reply to  Ol' Longhorn
1 year ago

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
Reply to  Coach
1 year ago

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

Coach
Reply to  Ol' Longhorn
1 year ago

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.

Wildcat
Reply to  Ol' Longhorn
1 year ago

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.

JimSwim22
Reply to  Wildcat
1 year ago

D3 still treats sports that way

Woke Stasi
1 year ago

The handwriting is on the wall: if there is no college football this fall, all bets are off for the future of college sports. This is a sad reality.
(Note: Stanford’s been playing their reaction to the CV19 pandemic very conservatively. The reduced cut in transfer payments from the Chinese government to the University will have a big impact as well. Stanford has a huge endowment [$25B+], but they seem reluctant to tap into it in a big way. This probably means they see few good things in the near term for the University and are willing to make the necessary cuts to keep the ship floating and moving.)

meeeee
Reply to  Woke Stasi
1 year ago

its pretty pathetic that these universities cannot weather a season of reduced income. The income will come back and it will now, at Stanford and other schools, be used for more football and basketball expenses. Conference realignment and development of the BCS and now playoffs for football were the beginning of this eventual outcome

Meeeeeee
Reply to  meeeee
1 year ago

Hmm, i guess it’s not pathetic based on the votes. Or those down votes are just failed AD’s

frug
1 year ago

I could never figure out how a school like Stanford could afford to sustain such an enormous athletic department. As a private school they can obviously lean more heavily on student fees and institutional support for subsidies than public schools, but with the costs for college sports exploding something was going to have to break eventually.

Admin
Reply to  frug
1 year ago

The amount of money flowing into Stanford is unreal. They’re getting about $2 billion in return off their endowment annually, even after the new tax that the Trump administration laid on endowments in 2017.

There are about 54 university/system endowments nationally that are $2 billion in total. Stanford’s annual endowment return is larger than the entire endowment, for example, of Florida, and similar to the entire endowment of Cal.

While most of that is earmarked for non-athletic purposes…the point is that with that much money floating around, it’s just shocking to me that they haven’t been able to fully endow the athletics program yet. Or at least come close enough to not have to cut 11 sports.

It’s estimated that… Read more »

AZswummer
Reply to  Braden Keith
1 year ago

Guess the alum need to pony up.

Woke Stasi
Reply to  Braden Keith
1 year ago

: those are big endowment numbers to be sure. That said, I’m not sure how readily available some of dollars are. For example, during the 2008 “great Recession,” Stanford learned that the big gains they were experiencing in investments like pine forest futures had little liquidity. Based on the communications I’ve received from the University over the past 4+ months, I believe they’re approaching the current situation very conservatively. Time will tell.

Woke Stasi
Reply to  Braden Keith
1 year ago

: I just received the following email from Stanford President Tessier-Lavigne and it is clarifying as well as sobering:

“While Stanford may be perceived to have limitless resources, the truth is that we do not. In general, Athletics has been a self-sustaining entity on our campus, and we are striving to preserve that model in a time when budgetary support for our academic mission is already under significant stress.

“Academic and administrative units across the university already have been planning budget cuts of up to 10% in response to the university’s constrained resources as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The vast majority of Stanford’s endowment is directed toward specific long-term uses, including need-based… Read more »

Hawaiian Reeves
Reply to  Woke Stasi
1 year ago

All of that is correct. The Stanford endowment includes things like money dedicated to ensure that there are always fresh red and white flowers planted in the middle of the The Oval. It is not unrestricted money. To date, athletics have been self-funded and not paid for by the university endowment. But the athletic department itself has a much smaller endowment of somewhere around $100m. There has been a push in recent years to try to get all of the coaching positions endowed, but most of the programs being cut had not obtained that level of security. I would expect/hope that a few programs get saved in coming weeks.

Ol' Longhorn
Reply to  Woke Stasi
1 year ago

They’ve directed endowment dollars for financial aid because they raised the “need” threshold from $125K to $150K. Also tough, if not idiotic, to spend endowment funds during a recession.

Irish Ringer
Reply to  Ol' Longhorn
1 year ago

$53K a year for tuition and then you have housing on top of that, so I could see where $150K wouldn’t be enough to fund that.

Swimgeek
1 year ago

Um – using a photo of the SWIM TEAM with this article is extremely misleading. I think we all did a double take!

John
Reply to  Swimgeek
1 year ago

No, I read the title then noticed the photo. I don’t think it’s misleading considering the threat collegiate sports in general are under.

Vanilla Gorilla
Reply to  Swimgeek
1 year ago

Agreed. I saw that and was thinking no no no no no….I’m guessing it was intentional

NEWTOSWIMSWAM
Reply to  Vanilla Gorilla
1 year ago

I am with @JOHN. The day Stanford cuts swimming would mean the end of all NCAA non revenue sports as we know it.

DLswim
Reply to  NEWTOSWIMSWAM
1 year ago

I agree, NEWTOSWIMSWAM, but I’m not 100% sure that men’s swimming was not on the chopping block this time around. Let’s hope they don’t get cut in the future.

wolfensf
1 year ago

No Sears cup for you

Shrimpngrits
Reply to  wolfensf
1 year ago

No Sears Cup for anyone. Cuts are being discussed at other schools despite mega tv contracts. Going online is costing millions.

meeeee
1 year ago

A lot of smart kids in those sports who will now choose to go somewhere else.

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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