Over the past year, several top universities have been slashing their varsity athletic programs. This post will cover reasons they might be doing so, speculation on some contributing factors that may have influenced their decisions, and how it might affect you, whether you’re a student athlete or anyone applying to a top university.
When universities slash their athletic departments, they also stop any athletic recruiting that goes with it. First, Brown announced that they were demoting eleven varsity teams to club status which includes the following:
- Men’s and women’s fencing
- Men’s and women’s golf
- Women’s skiing
- Men’s and women’s squash
- Women’s equestrian
- Men’s track & field/cross country
They are also elevating co-ed and women’s sailing to varsity teams. But after being critiqued, Brown has reinstated track & field/cross country as varsity teams.
When asked publicly why they did this, Brown claimed that the decisions weren’t to reduce budget or to contend with the financial impact of COVID-19, but rather to improve the competitiveness of their athletic teams, enhance the strength of club sports, and uphold commitment to provide equal opportunity in athletics for men and women. We speculate that they are also trying to reconsider the balance between admitting more niche athletes or those who may be stronger applicants holistically.
Stanford on the other hand did mention money as one of the motivating factors in why they are doing away with eleven varsity sports. Stanford is eliminating the following:
- Men’s and women’s facing
- Field hockey
- Lightweight rowing
- Men’s rowing
- Co-ed and women’s sailing
- Synchronized swimming
- Men’s volleyball
Here too, we see some strides to create equity, but as you can see many women sports such as field hockey and women’s sailing are also on the chopping block. Stanford has said that they will save over six billion dollars by cutting these sports, but we imagine that removing sports could also help them avoid potential criticism of letting in people who may have lower statistics academically.
Finally, Dartmouth has cut the following sports:
- Men’s and women’s swimming and diving
- Men’s and women’s golf
- Men’s lightweight rowing
Dartmouth has said they will reduce the number of recruited athletes by ten percent for economic reasons and a desire for excellence in academics.
We hypothesize (based purely on conjecture) that these colleges’ actions may be based on some past events. First, there was a scandal a while back called “Operation Varsity Blues” in which college consultant Rick Singer bribed coaches of mostly boutique sports at top universities to get students on the rosters of these teams as recruits, and therefore get them into college universities with lower test scores and academic profiles. That raised a lot of scrutiny to the world of college admissions. A not so secretive aspect of athletic recruiting at top universities is that athletic recruits are allowed to gain admission with much lower test scores and much lower GPAs and academic profiles than their non-athlete counterparts. In the wake of the scandals, many colleges and universities have begun to rethink some of their admission policies, which may explain the changes we mentioned above. A pattern shared between all these sports is that they’re expensive and their participation requires a certain level of affluence.
Adding to that, COVID-19 has decimated profits universities could have earned from sports events. Moreover, colleges may be trying to adhere to the Cohen v. Brown lawsuit in 1992 that dictated colleges and universities should promote gender equity among athletes. And frankly, cost is an issue. Most college athletic departments other than basketball and football don’t make money. For instance, only twenty-nine of the 300 athletic departments in major NCAA sports are profitable. This begs the questions whether keeping smaller sports that are expensive and may never make money is justifiable. The answer that many universities have arrived at is no.
What’s the Impact?
Other than taking away recruiting spots for these sports, these changes may lead to more coveted slots at these top universities. If you aren’t an athlete, this may potentially be good news for you because we’ll see less of an emphasis on recruiting. Other schools that have kept their varsity athletic departments may also reduce the awards that they offer for athletes who choose to go to their programs. We know that athletic departments are cutting spending, even if they’re not cutting entire sports. Harvard, for example, has cut capital spending on creating new fields or stadiums, though they vow that they won’t cut sports at this moment. Additionally, both Princeton and Penn announced they aren’t cutting any sports as of Summer 2020. Nevertheless, we think this trend of deemphasizing recruiting will continue over time in the college admissions landscape.
What do you think about these changes? Let us know in the comments under the video!