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In stunning reversal, Stanford will not cut any of the sports it said it would

Read original article here - Ann Killion is a columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: akillion@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @annkillion


In a stunning reversal of a decision that created national shockwaves, Stanford University is restoring all 11 sports programs it had planned to eliminate.

An official announcement from the university is expected later today. But a meeting with the coaches for the 11 sports is planned late in the morning, according to a source close to the negotiations.

Stanford did not immediately return a request for comment. The about-face comes a little more than ten months after Stanford abruptly stated that it would cut more than a third of university sports: fences for men and women, field hockey, light rowing, rowing for men, co-ed and women’s sailing, squash, synchronized men’s swimming, volleyball and wrestling. Last week, two lawsuits were filed against the university in federal court, filed by athletes on the target groups. But the decision to reinstate the teams had already been made before the trial, according to those familiar with the process. The fate of the suits, one of the athletes accusing the university of misleading them and violating their rights, and another of female athletes claiming gender discrimination, is unclear. In the wake of the July 8 announcement, Stanford had suffered a public relations disaster. Many of their athletes refused to bear the Stanford name while competing, and some – like wrestler Shane Griffith – won national championships while protesting against the school’s decision. Stanford’s image as an elite “champion home” and a pipeline to the Olympics was heavily tarnished during the process. The original rationale offered to cut the 11 teams was economic: in an open letter to the Stanford community last July, university leaders said: “The economic model that supports 36 college sports is unsustainable.” So in early April, university president Marc Tessier-Lavigne told The Chronicle: “It breaks our hearts to have to deal with the difficult economic reality of the sports model.” The university claimed to have “used up all the alternatives”. But Stanford’s claims were met with a violent setback by not only the 11 teams aimed at elimination, but the entire Stanford community. A group of high-profile Stanford athletics alumni, including many members of the school’s sports hall of Fame, organized a group called 36 Sports Strong, driven by a greater anger than any of them were ever contacted to donate to save the sport. A united front representing all Stanford athletes, 36 Sports Strong enlisted the support of high-profile alumni such as Andrew Luck, Julie Foudy and John Elway and raised millions of dollars in pledges to save the endangered sport. The group proposed a way to create scholarships to self-finance the endangered sports, many of which are already fully or partially gifted. The group also punched holes in the university’s claims that by eliminating some of the cheapest sports Stanford offers, it would somehow help erase the athletic department’s budget deficit. The price tag for saving the teams, estimated at $ 200 million by the university, was hotly contested with detailed budget analysis. Criticism of the decision came not only from Stanford Athletics products, but also from the general alumni community. Some donors threatened to reduce donations to the school. Athletic director Bernard Muir, who was already under fire due to the school’s involvement in the Varsity Blues scandal, received strong criticism. During a year already tested by the pandemic, students climbed into the affected sports to explore their options. Many entered the transfer portal and talked to other schools. Many also took heavy course loads, hoping to complete their coveted Stanford degree before leaving school. Concerns over Stanford’s decision went far beyond campus. Due to Stanford’s dominance in so-called Olympic sports, winning 25 straight Directors Cup trophies, it has long been considered not only an ideal venue for Olympic hopefuls, but also a leader in the Olympic movement. The United States relies on intercollegiate programs as an important component of development. If Stanford, one of the richest schools in the country, cuts sports, how can it be expected that less prosperous universities will keep the programs in step? Stanford is the last school to change course after cutting sports during the pandemic. William & Mary announced that they cut seven teams, but reversed the decision. Dartmouth cut five teams, but reintroduced them all, and the athletic director withdrew in the wake of the uprising.

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