Frequently asked questions: Stanford to continue 11 varsity sports

Stanford University leadership announced on May 18, 2021, that 11 varsity athletics teams slated for discontinuation at the end of the 2020-21 academic year will continue competing as varsity teams. Below are additional questions and answers about this decision.

1. What changed since last July to produce this decision?

In recent months, Stanford alumni have demonstrated new, vigorous and broad-based philanthropic interest in Stanford Athletics. Many individuals have stepped up to pledge funds in support.

These activities coincided with improvement in the financial investment markets over the last 10 months. This recovery means that Stanford Athletics’ dedicated endowments, including the DAPER Investment Fund, are more strongly positioned and additional resources can be drawn from them to support athletics programs as private fundraising efforts ramp up.

The changing conditions led us to re-evaluate the potential to raise the increased funds necessary to support all 36 teams.

2. What was the decision-making process and who was consulted?

Although some public and media narratives have not reflected this, Athletics and university leadership have been consistently engaged on this topic with a broad range of constituents including student-athletes, alumni, faculty and donors since July.

Once the 36 Sports Strong proposal was brought forth, university leaders met with leaders from the 36 Sports Strong group, and President Tessier-Lavigne asked the Board of Trustees to review the proposal and provide input to university management.

The broad engagement with many constituents, productive conversations with 36 Sports Strong and favorable changes to the financial outlook ultimately led to President Tessier-Lavigne, Provost Drell and Director of Athletics Muir reaching this decision, after consultation with the Board of Trustees and campus leadership.

3. What will happen to student-athletes who already transferred to other institutions?

None of the more than 240 student-athletes on these 11 teams has finalized a transfer to another institution. Our hope is that student-athletes who had begun to explore the possibility of transferring will choose to complete their undergraduate degree and varsity athletics career at Stanford.

4. What will happen to coaches who already left Stanford?

As previously announced, Stanford will honor all existing coach contracts. Only one coach from the 11 sports has departed Stanford thus far. In accordance with longstanding practice and policy, Stanford will not comment publicly on the details of future decisions related to coach contracts.

5. What will happen to staff members whose positions were eliminated last summer?

As part of substantive expense-saving measures implemented last summer, nearly 10% of varsity staff positions were eliminated. Some of those positions were directly related to the sport discontinuations, while others were part of unrelated department restructuring. Athletics leadership is currently evaluating its staffing needs moving forward.

6. Why did it take the time it did to reach this conclusion?

The decision last July came down primarily to finances and competitive excellence. It was not until very recently that a viable path to financial sustainability and competitive excellence for all 36 sports came into focus through significant positive changes in our financial outlook.

7. Have the structural financial challenges facing Stanford Athletics improved?

After thorough consideration and analysis, both last summer and over recent months, university leadership and the Board of Trustees and other advisors reaffirmed that Stanford Athletics continues to be managed with the highest attention to financial rigor. The leaders of 36 Sports Strong have concurred with this assessment in our discussions, and it should be a source of confidence for everyone in the Cardinal community.

The structural financial challenges - lagging revenue opportunities relative to competing institutions and cost increases occurring broadly in collegiate athletics - remain. However, we believe that with the support of our alumni and friends we can successfully move forward with 36 sports.

8. Did external pressures influence this decision?

As expected, the decision last summer drew a wide range of reactions and emotions. We listened to and reviewed all outreach from our extended community, as we do for any issue, to ensure all perspectives received thoughtful consideration.

In this case, the changing conditions led us to re-evaluate the potential to raise the increased funds necessary to support all 36 teams. Based on the circumstances now before us, we believe such an approach can succeed.

9. Did the two lawsuits recently filed against Stanford influence this decision?

No. While we were aware of two lawsuits filed on this subject last week, our discussions with 36 Sports Strong and other constituencies were already far along, and we reached the conclusion we are announcing today independent of their filing. We were disappointed by these suits since it was well known that we were engaged in these discussions, and we are pleased to be embarking on a more positive path.

10. What will happen if Stanford is unable to raise the funds needed to operate these 11 sports?

We are committed to supporting 36 sports at the varsity level, including these 11 sports.

11. Does this decision mean Stanford has compromised its vision for the pursuit of excellence in all varsity sports?

Our aspiration is to support 36 sports at a level that enables sustained success at the highest level of intercollegiate athletics. To that end, over the past year, Athletics has experienced unprecedented fundraising success, and we are looking forward to building on this momentum as we partner with our alumni, parents and friends to support our remarkable student-athletes and ensure the continued competitive success of their teams.

12. How will alumni and other supporters work with Stanford’s development staff to raise the necessary funds to endow these programs?

Similar to other areas of the university, the Office of Development works with alumni and friends to advance Stanford through philanthropy. A dedicated staff focused on Athletics, alongside fundraising professionals across the institution, will work with alumni, parents and friends of Stanford Athletics to increase philanthropic support and create endowments benefitting scholarships, coachships, individual sports and Athletics priorities. We look forward to engaging with our supporters to understand the ways they would like to make a difference for Stanford Athletics and to connecting them with funding opportunities that will allow them to support the teams and priorities that matter most to them.

13. How will Stanford engage Athletics alumni, supporters and student-athletes moving forward?

Moving forward, Athletics plans to enhance the frequency and depth of communications to alumni, both from the department and directly from the specific programs in which alumni are most interested.

Additionally, Athletics is redoubling its commitment to sharing information with and seeking input from its existing boards. Those boards include the Board of Trustees Special Committee on Athletics, the Stanford Athletics Board, the DAPER Investment Fund and the Buck/Cardinal Club Board. These boards will continue to be composed of dedicated volunteers representing the diverse interests, passions and constituencies that exist among the Stanford Athletics community.

Alumni and supporters are also encouraged to email athletics@stanford.edu with questions, concerns or ideas. A cross-functional team will ensure messages sent to that address reach the appropriate parties and receive a timely response.

Finally, over recent months Athletics has been working with student-athletes to evaluate and enhance opportunities for student-athlete engagement and consultation on the issues that are most important to them. This critical initiative will continue.


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