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Stanford University Cuts Varsity Sports

by Jackie King and Sophie Sullivan

People Editor and Media Production Editor

Stanford University announced the indefinite removal of 11 varsity sports after the 2020-21 season on Wed., July 8, in a joint statement released by the university’s President, Provost, and Director of Athletics. Over 240 student-athletes and 22 coaches will lose their sports and jobs because of this decision, not to mention the countless student-athletes who had dreams to play at Stanford.

The 11 sports that are going to be discontinued after next year’s season 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. These programs alone have participated in 20 national championships, won Stanford 27 Olympic medals, and graduated more than 4,000 alumni. 

The university chose these specific teams for several reasons, including NCAA Division 1 (D1) level sponsorship of the sport; national participation in the sport; the sport’s prospective future success; impact on gender equity, diversity, and “student-athlete experience”; and more. 

The impact of these teams’ discontinuations will affect prospective athletes nationwide. For example, there are no other Division 1 (D1) lightweight rowing, sailing, squash or synchronized swimming programs on the West Coast, and only two D1 field hockey and fencing programs on the West Coast. In addition, these 11 sports are present in less than 22 percent of 350 D1 institutions; nine of the 11 are supported by fewer than 9 percent, leaving the teams with very little competition. Six of the 11 sports (lightweight rowing, men’s rowing, co-ed and women’s sailing, squash, synchronized swimming) are not sponsored by the NCAA.

The University cited the need to re-establish “fiscal stability” within Stanford Athletics as the primary reason for the teams’ discontinuations. They stated that their current financial model that supports 36 varsity sports is not sustainable. According to the letter, only one university in the nation supports more varsity sports, and they do so with a “significantly larger budget.” Most of Stanford’s peers operate with a larger budget, while supporting far fewer varsity sports. 

The university further explained that the Athletics Department was already facing a large “structural deficit,” estimated to exceed 12 million dollars in 2021 before factoring in losses due to COVID-19. If the university is forced to suspend sports seasons next year, the loss could become even greater. 

Although they explored multiple other options, including “ticket sales, broadcast revenue, university funding, philanthropic support, operating budget reductions and many others,” the university found all of these options to be inadequate due to the magnitude of their financial issues. Due to the coronavirus, the university is planning large budget cuts because they “are forecasting $267 million negative financial impact.” Stanford made these cuts with the hope that they would benefit long-term needs, including need-based financial aid.

Despite the cutting of the sports due to financial difficulties, the Stanford administration promised to “honor all existing athletics scholarship commitments and… affected coaches’ contracts,” as well as fully support the decision of any student-athletes to transfer. All of the cut sports have been given the opportunity to transfer to a club-level team after the 2020-21 season, provided they can do so in a “financially self-sustaining manner.” 

Stanford synchronized swimmer and LGHS alumni Haillee Heinrich stated, “[I] definitely didn’t see this coming and am still taken aback that this was the ultimate decision they came up with. It is still painful to think about, and my heart goes out to every athlete and coach that is affected by this life-changing decision.” Despite this, she is still “extremely grateful…for the opportunities [she] was provided with at Stanford.”

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