William & Mary is stepping back from a previous decision to eliminate seven varsity sports, as the university now looks to take a phased approach that will allow for a gender equity review paired with exploration of alternative solutions leading to a long-term financial plan.
According to a press release, W&M men's athletics teams slated for reclassification will continue as Division I sports through at least 2021-22.
The decision follows a recommendation from interim director of athletics Jeremy P. Martin following his review of the decision announced Sept. 3, 2020, to discontinue seven of William & Mary's 23 Division I varsity sports – men's and women's gymnastics, men's and women's wwimming, men's indoor and outdoor track & field, and women's volleyball.
Martin's report concludes that long-term solutions must be found within three frames – equity, financial sustainability and excellence. Recommendations include completing the department-wide gender equity review before deciding the scope of the varsity sports program W&M can realistically support; establishing defined fundraising goals for each team; engaging the entire W&M community in the conversation about excellence; and establishing a sustainable program that will achieve gender equity during the 2022-23 academic year.
"Since early last month, we have been engaged in a conversation about how to structure William & Mary's Division I athletics offerings in a way that is equitable, financially sustainable and excellent," W&M president Katherine Rowe said in the release. "I appreciate that this has been an especially painful time for the students involved in the sports cut on September 3rd to endure.
"Many in our community – student-athletes, coaches, alumni, faculty and other supporters – have responded with passion, offering alternative solutions to the challenges facing the department," said Rowe, adding she is grateful for Martin's swift and thorough work over the past month to assess the path forward for W&M Athletics. "His recommendations address the reality that the athletics community needs time to confront together forthrightly: a status quo that is unsustainable with respect both to finances and mission."
When Martin assumed the role of Interim Director of Athletics on Oct. 6, 2020, Rowe directed him to review the Sept. 3 plan, and asked that a report be completed by early November to minimize the uncertainty for those most directly affected.
The university said it remains committed to achieving gender equity during 2022-23, and future reclassifications may well be required unless W&M establishes a new financial path. To address significant financial shortfalls this year and in coming years, the department will also create a new cost-reduction plan, as other departments at William & Mary have been asked to do.
"Going forward, William & Mary Athletics cannot fulfill its commitments to provide an equitable and excellent environment for learning and competing in Division I, under its prior financial model," Rowe said. "Director Martin has outlined a clear and hopeful path to achieving those essential goals with an operational footing that could be sustainable beyond 2020, if the milestones the department will establish are reached."
Martin said he recognizes that William & Mary could well have to face the same very difficult decisions to become compliant during 2022-23, but noted that with an additional year and a half to prepare, the university will be in a much better position to deal with the challenges as a united community. He added that the financial challenges, even for this year, remain very real, and he is committed to a strong partnership with University Advancement, the Tribe Club and the W&M Foundation to meet the challenge head on. A $1.5 million challenge grant announced last month by an anonymous donor for women's athletic scholarships, made in support of Rowe and the university's commitment to gender equity, is an important step forward, he said.