Stanford, which provides one of the most exceptional intercollegiate athletic programs in the country, will discontinue 11 varsity sports programs due to financial difficulties. This will include men’s and women fencing, field hockey, lightweight rowing, men’s rowing, co-ed and women’s sailing, squash, synchronized swimming, men’s volleyball, and wrestling.

Financial Sustainability

According to Marc Tessier-Lavigne, President of Stanford University, Provost Persis Drell, and Bernard Muir, Director of Athletics, providing all 36 varsity teams with the level of support that they deserve has become a financial challenge for them.

The average Division I athletic program sponsors 18 varsity teams, whereas Stanford sponsors 36 total. Only one university at the same Division level has more varsity sports, and many schools at the Power Five Conference level contribute a larger budget while operating fewer sports teams. Student-athletes in Stanford make up 12% of the whole undergraduate population with 850 athletes, which is a higher percentage than most of the other universities.

The financial issues arose due to the coronavirus pandemic. The deficit was projected to $12 million for the fiscal year 2021.

However, before the sports reduction, the number increased massively to $25 million in the fiscal year 2021 and a cumulative shortage of $70 million over the next three years after factoring in the coronavirus effects. The deficit could grow if the 2020-2021 sports season is completely suspended.

Over the past several months, Stanford Athletics’ executive team and coaches have taken voluntary pay reductions. They reduced sport and administrative operating budgets and altered competition schedules and travel plans for the upcoming season. There will also be a 10% staff reduction in the athletics department.

Their first alternative was to reduce support in all 36 sports programs, including eliminating scholarships and maintaining high-caliber coaches and staff. However, the university believed that this would hurt the value of its athletics program.

Stanford’s thorough decision to discontinue the 11 varsity programs will create a path for the athletics to stably return while maintaining gender equity and competitiveness. Stanford will now retain 9% of undergraduate students as student-athletes in the following academic year.

Stanford Athletics

All the 11 sports programs consist of more than 240 student-athletes and 22 coaches. Four thousand alumni contributed to building the programs, and it led to 20 national championships as well as 27 Olympic medals.

These 11 sports were decided upon after thorough evaluation and consideration. Several criteria for how the school chose which programs to cut include sponsorship of the sport at NCAA Division I level, potential expense savings from the elimination of the sport, impact on gender equity and Title IX compliance, and impact on the diversity of the student-athlete population.

“We remain committed to a strong and vibrant varsity athletics program at Stanford, and we are confident that these changes will position Stanford Athletic, and our remaining 25 varsity programs, for sustained excellence and leadership in athletics, academics and education through sport,” the administrators wrote. “Our commitment to diversity and gender equity in athletics also remain firmly in place and is supported by this decision.”

Many of the sports compete without a full complement of scholarships, coaches, and resources. With the financial challenge, the school could not guarantee that they can provide all the necessary resources for the athletes to compete at the highest level. Stanford promises to work with student-athletes of these sports who have been affected to provide them with opportunities for participation at the club level.