After a controversial decision to cut nearly a third of its varsity sports teams last year, Stanford University has walked back its decision. On Tuesday, the university announced in a press release that it will not be cutting 11 sports programs, citing improved financial footing and more fundraising opportunities to support the athletics department.
"We have new optimism based on new circumstances, including vigorous and broad-based philanthropic interest in Stanford Athletics on the part of our alumni, which have convinced us that raising the increased funds necessary to support all 36 of our varsity teams is an approach that can succeed," Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne said in the statement.
The university didn't disclose the specifics of its improved financial outlook, but said in the release that Stanford officials have been talking with groups of alumni, including 36 Sports Strong, that have been trying to raise private funds to prevent the elimination of the university's athletic teams. The 36 Sports Strong advocacy group, which received the backing of U.S. Sen. Cory Booker and Major League Baseball Hall of Famer Mike Mussina, among others, was created last year in response to the university's decision.
The teams that will be restored 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.
Last July, university leaders announced in an open letter the "heartbreaking" decision to cut the programs after the end of the 2020-21 season due to a growing deficit in the athletics budget and other financial strains brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
"We felt it was imperative to confront the financial challenge before it worsened, to undertake a deliberate and collaborative decision-making process with our Board of Trustees and campus leadership, and to exhaust all alternatives before making profound changes in our programs, especially during this difficult time," university leaders wrote at the time.
On May 12, Stanford athletes filed two lawsuits against the university in an effort to keep the 11 sports. One suit filed by eight athletes alleges the university was in breach of contract for misleading them into the sports program as recruits without disclosing plans to make the cuts. Another lawsuit filed by athletes on five of the women's teams alleges that the cuts violate federal antidiscrimination law Title IX.
The university noted in Tuesday's statement that the decision to reinstate the 11 sports teams were "independent" of the two lawsuits and that discussions with 36 Sports Strong and others were already "far along."
"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," Stanford Athletics Directors Bernard Muir. "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."
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