Stanford University said Tuesday it will cut 11 varsity sports, effective at the end of 2020-21 academic terms on account of an expected shortfall of $70 million in revenue during the next three fiscal years due to the ongoing coronavirus.
“This is heart breaking news to share,” Stanford said in an open letter penned by president Marc Tessier-Lavigne, provost Persis Drell, and athletic director Bernard Muir on the school’s website. “Today’s announcement brings the three of us great sadness, though we realize ours is nowhere near the level of pain and disappointment that our student-athletes, parents, alumni and supporters of the impacted sports are experiencing.”
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, plus men’s volleyball and wrestling. Cutting them is projected to save the university $200 million, the document said, and the decision was made in consultation with the university’s Board of Trustees.
“These 11 programs consist of more than 240 incredible student-athletes and 22 dedicated coaches,” the trio said. “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.”
Stanford came to the conclusion that continuing the support of the current 36 varsity sports, making it one of the largest athletic departments in the country, is not sustainable.
The school had previously projected a $12 million structural deficit this fiscal year in the athletic department before the pandemic struck with force in March. Following the spread of COVID-19 and the shutdown of all collegiate sports, that deficit is now projected for $25 million this fiscal year and $70 million during the coming three years.
According to the letter, the school’s 850 student athletes are only 12-percent of the undergraduate population.
A number of alternatives were studied such as ticket sales, broadcast revenue, university funding, philanthropic support, and operating budget reductions, but to no avail.
“While Stanford may be perceived to have limitless resources, the truth is that we do not,” the university’s letter said. Stanford’s endowment stood at $26.4 billion for 2019, according to U.S. News and World Report. That amount ranks it third for U.S. universities, behind Harvard ($39.2 billion) and Yale ($29.4 billion).
As a result of the coronavirus, the Palo Alto, California-based university was already planning budget cuts across the board of 10-percent. A number of athletic department executives and coaches – including football and basketball coaches – have since taken voluntary pay cuts.
“The primary alternative to this decision would have been a broad and deep reduction in support for all 36 of our varsity sports, including the elimination of scholarships and the erosion of our efforts to attract and retain the high-caliber coaches and staff needed to provide an unparalleled scholar-athletics experience,” the letter said.
The economics for Stanford are likely very different from most of the mid-tier Division I schools – like Akron and Cincinnati – that have cut sports in the past few months. Stanford operates each year at capacity, and turns away the bulk of its qualified applicants.
As a result, the school can argue that athletes on scholarship can be replaced by other students paying more in tuition, which was $51, 534 for the 2018-19 academic year. Because of the cache around a Stanford education, the school may also believe that shifting some of these sports to club status won’t change the number of people willing to attend the university and compete at the lower status.