Last week’s announcement by Dartmouth College that they would be cutting their men’s and women’s swimming & diving programs, along with their golf teams and men’s lightweight rowing team, isn’t the first time that the school has tried to drop its aquatics team.
In 2002, Dartmouth announced the elimination of its swimming & diving teams as well. That was a simpler and smaller time in college athletics, though, where the program’s budget was just $212,000. These days, fundraising thrice that amount in some cases can’t even get a conversation with an athletics director.
One of the first attempts to fundraise to save the program came from sophomore swimmer Jenny Kunkel and her boyfriend at the time Jon Lenihan, who attended Xavier. The pair got the idea to list the item for sale on EBay, when the concept of the online-auction site was still relatively novel and becoming a cultural touchstone.
As was covered by ESPN’s Darren Rovell at the time, the auction did get some traction.
“In the first night, we got 4,000 hits,” said Kunkel.
The cut at the time was made to satisfy about 80% of a mandated ‘trimming’ of the school’s athletics budget.
“They just made this drastic cut,” Kunkel said. “They didn’t even talk about creative ways to possibly finance this.”
The story was later picked up by the New York Times, which reported that a user, Mayday 11111, made a bid for $212,099.99, but later retracted it. That was one of at least 6 bids made for the listing.
The Times interviewed a spokesperson for EBay, who said that while actual sports teams, including 2 minor league baseball teams, had been legitimately sold on the platform, that they ultimately removed it because the swimmers didn’t actually have the authority to sell the team.
But the stunt did bring a lot of attention to the program.
Supporters of the program would eventually launch the John C. Glover fund, which was named after former Dartmouth All-American swimmer John C. Glover, who graduated in 1955. He died while training for the Olympics at Yale in 1956.
In total, $2 million were raised for that fund, which set up an endowment designed to fund the program for the next 10 years. That fund was exhausted in 2013, the school has confirmed to SwimSwam.
While Dartmouth swimmers have begun planning ways to revive their program, and we expect to feature them on the SwimSwam Podcast this week to discuss those efforts, the school seems to have declared that it won’t accept any effort to fundraise for the programs.
The school says that, even if they were funded, that they would decline to continue the sports because they didn’t believe that the sports would have a chance to excel without support from admissions in boosting student-athletes’ spot in line to get into Dartmouth.
Along with announcing the program cuts, the school wrote heavily in their press release about the need to free up spots in incoming classes to recruit non-athletes.
From the school’s FAQs:
Do you expect online petitions demanding reinstatement of the impacted sports?
In today’s world, it would be surprising if there were no online petitions demanding reinstatement of the affected sports. However, while we will fully appreciate the passion and sentiment such efforts would represent, many thousands of signatures, organized email campaigns, and social media posts will not change the reality of the current circumstances, nor will they reveal anything we don’t already know—that we’ve made decisions that were unexpected, and that will impact the affected student-athletes’ Dartmouth experiences. We are already aware of those unfortunate consequences. As difficult as the decisions were, we made them knowing they are in the best interest of Dartmouth and the long term success of athletics.
Can alumni and others raise funds to save the impacted sports?
In a community as passionate and supportive as Dartmouth, we anticipate that some alumni, parents, and others will advocate fundraising campaigns to save these teams. Some may make very generous pledges in support of such efforts. However, even if financial resources were plentiful, these sports would exist without any admissions support opportunities, making the competitive playing field extremely lopsided. This would result in such a frustrating and unsatisfactory experience that it would be implausible to expect Division I caliber athletes to choose Dartmouth over other options, or to attract and retain qualified coaches to lead the programs in such a scenario.
This leaves swimming & diving, again, in the school’s bullseye, rehaunting old nightmares from years past. The school says that it could find no compelling reason to protect the program from double jeopardy.
Again, from the school’s FAQs:
Why choose swimming and diving again after doing it less than 20 years ago?
We expect some will question our decision to eliminate swimming and diving in particular, in light of the fact that this same sport was eliminated in late 2002 and reinstated in early 2003. But when our recent analysis reached the same conclusion as 18 years ago, and we realized that our current swimmers and divers would be no more or less impacted than the student-athletes in any other sport chosen for elimination, it simply didn’t make sense to arbitrarily exempt swimming and diving from consideration.
The fight continues regardless, to save this college program, and others. With much bigger budgets in play, and much more money required to keep up with the proverbial Joneses, the mountain seems like a higher climb, especially as that mountain grows with the mounting financial impacts of the coronavirus.
But, it does happen, programs are saved from extinction, if rarely. Sometimes it just takes a little ingenuity to light a fire.