Stanford to discontinue 11 varsity sports

Due to financial burden, varsity athletic teams to be reduced from 36 to 25

By and

A joint statement released today by University President Marc Tessier-Lavigne, Provost Persis Drell and Director of Athletics Bernard Muir announced that Stanford will discontinue 11 of its 36 varsity sports upon the completion of the 2020-21 academic year. After that, the the affected sports will have the opportunity to transition to club status.

The sports to be cancelled are 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 facing cancellation will be allowed to compete one final year, should the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic allow for the upcoming 2020-21 season. 

Stanford formerly boasted more Division I collegiate sports offered than any other university; the average Division I athletics program sponsors 18 varsity sports.

Teams were notified of the upcoming cancellation via Zoom and were given little prior notice of the restructuring.

“I am just so shocked,” one men’s volleyball player said. “I did not think 2020 could get this bad. My whole life plan has been turned upside down, and I no longer know what I am doing.”

The 11 affected teams have brought the university 20 national championships and 27 olympic medals since their respective inaugurations. Lightweight rowing brought home national honors most recently and has won the IRA championship for the last five consecutive years (2015-19).

“I’m overall just confused and taken back that this is their final decision,” a current synchronized swimmer said. “I definitely didn’t see something of this magnitude coming.”

Currently, more than 240 student athletes and 22 coaches are a part of these sports on the Farm — in addition to committed high school athletes, who may now reevaluate their collegiate plans.

Current athletes will not lose any existing athletic scholarships should they choose to remain at Stanford to complete their undergraduate education, but presumably no future scholarships will be given. The contracts of affected coaches will be honored, and any support staff whose employment is ending will be provided with severance pay.

“I think I’m mainly just disappointed,” a current men’s fencer said. “I had high hopes for the next three years.”

Greatly exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, this decision was largely due to financial strain placed on the university from the cost of maintaining so many teams. 

The statement cited a variety of reasons as to why the university chose these specific sports. These factors included sponsorship at the NCAA Division I level, national youth and postgraduate participation and local and national popularity, among others.

Questions remain if potential donations may save the future of these sports.

Many of the cancelled sports were unable to begin or complete their 2020 seasons due to COVID-19 cancellations. Spring athletes were given an extra year of eligibility by the NCAA to ameliorate the disruption, and it is now likely that many Stanford athletes will transfer to another school that does offer the given sport on the varsity level. 

“We hope they choose to remain on The Farm and earn their Stanford degrees,” the university wrote in its statement.

But for many, the decision is not that easy. One player discussed the dilemma of deciding between a Stanford degree and playing his Division I sport.

“I guess I am going to have to figure out as life goes on,” he said. “But in the meantime, I am truly heartbroken.”

Contact Jeremy Rubin at jjmrubin ‘at’ stanford.edu and Cybele Zhang at cybelez ‘at’ staford.edu.

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Cybele Zhang '22 is majoring in English Literature with a minor in German Studies. The Los Angeles-native has served as Sports Editor, her current position, for Vol. 255, 257 and 258. Her writing covers a wide range of sports, but she especially enjoys writing about women in sports and NCAA policy. Contact her at [email protected]
Jeremy Rubin '23 is one of the sports section's Managing Editors for Vol. 258. A lifelong Yankees, Knicks and Jets fan, this New Yorker spends his free time devouring all forms of sports content or jamming out to music. Contact him at jjmrubin 'at' stanford.edu.