After the 2020-21 season, Stanford University will no longer have varsity fencing, field hockey, synchronized swimming or wrestling teams.
They are among the 11 varsity sports the university is eliminating to save money in the face of a growing deficit in the athletics budget and looming cuts due to the pandemic.
Stanford announced the decision on Wednesday, July 8, first over Zoom to the more than 200 student-athletes and 22 coaches from the affected teams: 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. The teams will be able to compete for a final time this year — if athletic events are allowed. Twenty staff members will lose their jobs as a result of the cuts.
In an open letter, President Marc Tessier-Lavigne, Provost Persis Drell and Director of Athletics Bernard Muir called the decision "heartbreaking" but necessary.
"We felt it was imperative to confront the financial challenge before it worsened, to undertake a deliberate and collaborative decision-making process with our Board of Trustees and campus leadership, and to exhaust all alternatives before making profound changes in our programs, especially during this difficult time," they wrote.
The Board and athletics executive team unanimously supported the decision, according to the university.
Stanford currently offers 36 varsity sports, more than nearly every other Division I college in the country, the university said. This is no longer sustainable, Tessier-Lavigne, Drell and Muir wrote, particularly in light of a structural deficit in the athletics department that predated the coronavirus shutdown. Without cutting the 11 sports, Stanford forecasted a "best-case scenario" of a $25-million deficit for athletics in 2021, including the effects of COVID-19, and a cumulative shortfall of nearly $70 million over the next three years. These deficits could deepen if the 2020-21 sports season is suspended or changed due to the coronavirus.
Permanently sustaining the 11 teams at a varsity level would cost more than $200 million, the university said.
The university looked into alternatives, including ticket sales, broadcast revenue, university funding, philanthropic support and operating budget reductions, but "found them insufficient to meet the magnitude of the financial challenge before us."
The entire athletics executive team and several head coaches, including the head football and basketball coaches, have already taken voluntary pay reductions.
"While Stanford may be perceived to have limitless resources, the truth is that we do not," Tessier-Lavigne, Drell and Muir wrote. "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."
Meanwhile, academic and administrative departments across the university are planning budget cuts of up to 10%.
The primary alternative to ending the 11 sports would require "broad and deep" cuts for all 36 varsity sports, which would include eliminating scholarships and negatively impact Stanford's ability to hire high-quality coaches and staff.
"After considering the effects of this model, we determined that operating our varsity athletics programs in this manner would be antithetical to Stanford's values and our determination to be excellent in all that we do," Tessier-Lavigne, Drell and Muir wrote.
Criteria used to select the 11 teams included: potential expense savings, sponsorship of the sport at the NCAA Division I level (of the 11, six are not NCAA-sponsored), local and national fan interest in the sport, history of the sport at Stanford and impact on gender equity, Title IX compliance and diversity.
Stanford will honor all existing athletics scholarship commitments to the affected student-athletes throughout their undergraduate years. The contracts of affected coaches will be honored and any support staff who are losing their jobs will be provided with severance pay.
All of the affected sports will be able to transition to club status after the 2020-21 season, "but will need to do so in a financially self-sustaining manner that ensures the safety and well-being of the participants," the university leaders said.
More information about the decision is available at this university Q&A.
Find comprehensive coverage on the Midpeninsula's response to the new coronavirus by Palo Alto Online, the Mountain View Voice and the Almanac here.