During these stressful economic times, universities with sizable endowments are tightening their purse strings. Stanford University recently announced the elimination of 11 varsity athletic teams, among them: 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. Dartmouth College today announced the elimination of men’s and women’s swimming and diving, men’s and women’s golf, and men’s lightweight rowing. As we previously reported, Brown eliminated men’s and women’s fencing, men’s and women’s golf women’s skiing, men’s and women’s squash, and women’s equestrian (the school initially chose to eliminate men’s track and field and cross country only to reverse that decision).
And why the cuts within the athletic departments at these schools? As Dartmouth President Philip J. Hanlon writes in a message to the Dartmouth community, “Financial considerations have added to the challenges. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, Dartmouth was facing financial challenges due to the urgent need to address a number of high-cost capital projects, including renovation of our aging residence halls, the modernization of our campus energy system, and an upgrade to our IT infrastructure. In addition, the severe and sudden financial pressure created by the COVID-related institutional budget deficit, projected to be $150 million at the end of the fiscal year ending June 30, 2021, has dramatically accelerated our need to find savings across Dartmouth. This is forcing every school and division, including athletics, to make difficult decisions to adjust to a new financial reality.”
While We Are Saddened by These Cuts, We Also Understand
We are saddened by these cuts to the athletic department. In fact, we swam on the Dartmouth men’s swim team — a team that was cut back in 2002 but soon thereafter reinstated. Back then, many members of the student body marched to then-Dartmouth President Jim Wright’s house, chanting, “Jim, let us swim!” One swimmer’s boyfriend even wisely put the team for sale on eBay. As it turns out, one can’t sell a college’s Division I athletic team. But the move garnered enough publicity for the teams on SportsCenter that Dartmouth chose to reinstate both the men’s and women’s swimming and diving teams. They would exist for the next 18 years — that is, until today.
We don’t like the fact that our own college team, among all of these other varsity teams with dedicated, talented athletes — were cut in recent days. But we also understand that these are tough economic times. And we understand that some of these lower profile sports which do not generate revenue for the universities — like swimming, squash, equestrian, field hockey, and more — take away slots in the admissions process from other deserving candidates. Let’s face it: squash, swimming, equestrian, water polo, and the like are not exactly sports that feature great diversity (just check out the photo above from our time on the swim team). Some would call these sports country club sports.
Eliminating These Sports Frees Up Slots in Admissions, But A Workaround Isn’t Implausible
So by eliminating these varsity sports, elite colleges are essentially freeing up more slots in admissions for first-generation college students, low-income students, and underrepresented minority students. And while we would argue that there’s a middle ground — that these varsity sports could continue to exist and just no longer be earmarked slots in admissions (squash players, swimmers, and water polo players will surely still attend America’s elite schools!) — maybe our vision isn’t realistic. It’s just that these universities — Stanford, Dartmouth, and Brown among them — boast such large endowments and it’s hard for us to wrap our heads around the fact that they can’t continue to subsidize, say, a swim team that swims in a pool that’s already been built and renovated.
As you can see, we find ourselves torn. On the one hand, we aren’t crying that squash players and swimmers and field hockey players won’t have a major edge in the admissions process — not in these times. But on the other hand, we loved our time swimming and playing water polo in the Karl Michael Pool. We forged lifelong friendships in these waters. And we are sad that many students across these sports at these schools who are already grappling with a forever altered college experience because of the pandemic can’t dream of continuing their swimming and squash and equestrian careers upon their return. So here’s hoping the swimmers and divers of Dartmouth and some of the other athletes from the teams cut in recent days take the fight to their institutions. And here’s hoping their fight, which we now know is already in the works, leads to reinstatement…even if it means eliminating the earmarking of recruit slots in admissions. If history is any guide, these athletes taking the fight to their institutions would have a fighting chance — but only if they did so the right way.
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