Stanford Restores 11 Sports After Outcry Over COVID-Inspired Cuts

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Stanford is reinstating all 11 of the varsity sports it eliminated last July, the latest big-time college athletic department to reverse course on program cuts following public pressure and legal challenges.

The decision comes 10 months after the school said it would eliminate the 11 programs due to an expected budget shortfall of $70 million over the next three years. Those changes, approved by the school’s trustees, were projected to save the university $200 million, according to a document accompanying the announcement.

The California school’s leadership announced the reversal Tuesday afternoon in an open letter to the Stanford community, citing an improved financial outlook and optimism around fundraising.

“I am thrilled that we have found a way to continue sponsoring these varsity sports, which are an important part of the fabric of this university,” athletic director Bernard Muir said in a statement. “I believe the future is extremely bright for Stanford athletics and am eager to begin the important work of galvanizing our community and cementing Stanford’s position of leadership and excellence in intercollegiate sports.”

The initial decision, made by a school with a $26 billion endowment, turned heads across college sports. In the ensuing weeks and months, a number of smaller athletic departments—and some bigger ones—moved to eliminate programs.

It was also met with almost immediate opposition from students, parents, alumni and fans. A group called 36 Sports Strong became the focal point of the fundraising and activism, and in the past few weeks a pair of lawsuits were filed to prevent the changes (the school said this decision was not impacted by those lawsuits). There were more public displays of opposition as well; many Cardinal athletes (including wrestling national champion Shane Griffith) chose to cover or abandon the Stanford name/logo when competing this year.

“A year ago, the world was in a pandemic-caused panic,” 36 Sports Strong said in a statement. “Now that we’ve nearly emerged from that crisis, we can look ahead to a brighter and more sustainable future for Stanford athletics.”

Stanford becomes the latest school to renege on its intention to eliminate sports in the face of pressure. Clemson recently reinstated its men’s track and cross-country teams following a coordinated Title IX challenge from both male and female athletes. Brown, William & Mary, East Carolina and Dartmouth are among the other schools that reversed course on program cuts.

The 11 Stanford programs are men’s and women’s fencing, field hockey, lightweight rowing, men’s rowing, co-ed and women’s sailing, squash, synchronized swimming, plus men’s volleyball and wrestling. Those teams currently cover more than 240 athletes, and over their histories have won 20 national championships and 27 Olympic medals.

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