Stanford eliminates 11 varsity sports amid budget concerns

Sam Cooper
·3 min read

Stanford is making significant cuts within its athletic department, dropping 11 of the 36 varsity sports it offers.

The university announced the news in a letter on Wednesday, saying the cuts are necessary in order to create “fiscal stability” for the athletic department moving forward. The affected sports are 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.

Those programs will be discontinued “at the conclusion of the 2020-21 academic year.” At that point, they “will have the opportunity to transition to club status” at the university. The school says it will honor existing athletic scholarships through the remainder of their undergraduate studies for affected athletes. Stanford will assist those who wish to transfer to continue their athletic careers at another school and honor the contracts of affected coaches. Additionally, 20 support staff positions will be eliminated.

“This is heartbreaking news to share. These 11 programs consist of more than 240 incredible student-athletes and 22 dedicated coaches. They were built by more than 4,000 alumni whose contributions led to 20 national championships, 27 Olympic medals, and an untold number of academic and professional achievements. Each of the individuals associated with these programs will forever have a place in Stanford’s history,” the school said in a letter attributed to president Marc Tessier-Lavigne, provost Persis Drell and athletic director Bernard Muir.

In cutting those specific sports, the university pointed to fan interest, potential savings, diversity, history of the sport at Stanford and Title IX compliance, among other factors.

STANFORD, CA - MARCH 12: The Stanford logo is displayed on a track on the Stanford University campus on March 12, 2019 in Stanford, California. More than 40 people, including actresses Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman, have been charged in a widespread elite college admission bribery scheme. Parents, ACT and SAT administrators and coaches at universities including Stanford, Georgetown, Yale, and the University of Southern California have been charged. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Stanford announced Wednesday that it is eliminating 11 of its 36 varsity sports. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Stanford: Offering 36 sports ‘not sustainable’

Stanford isn’t the first Division I university to cut sports in recent months, but it is by far the most prominent — and the first from a Power Five conference — to do so. Stanford’s 36 varsity sport offerings were the second-most in FBS, a model the school said was “not sustainable” financially. The averaged Division I FBS-level program sponsors 18 varsity sports, the school said. Stanford said it would have needed more than $200 million in incremental funding in order to “permanently sustain these 11 sports at a nationally competitive varsity level.”

“The decision to discontinue these 11 varsity sports programs comes down primarily to finances and competitive excellence. With so many varsity sports and limited financial resources, we would no longer be able to support a world-class athletics experience for our student-athletes without making these changes,” the school said.

According to Stanford, its athletics budget issues were present “several years” before the coronavirus pandemic, but the pandemic and the financial challenges it brought “have only exacerbated” the school’s concerns.

“Before these sport reductions, our revised forecasts indicated a best-case scenario of a $25 million deficit in [the 2021 fiscal year], factoring in the effects of COVID-19, and a cumulative shortfall of nearly $70 million over the next three years. These projected deficits could become much greater if the 2020-21 sports seasons are suspended or altered due to COVID-19,” the school said.

During the pandemic, Stanford has instituted an array of cost-saving measures, including pay reductions for coaches like head football coach David Shaw, and reducing administrative operating budgets “to the greatest extent possible.” That includes altering “competition schedules and travel plans” for the upcoming year.

Stanford further detailed the financial issues it is facing.

“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,” the school said.

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