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Email Criticizes Stanford Bonuses Amid Sports Cuts

Paul Steinbach

Stanford University is facing criticism for awarding bonuses to football and basketball staff members who traveled with their teams during the pandemic, even as the athletic department justified the cutting of 11 sports as a budgetary necessity.

As reported by the San Francisco Chronicle, the bonuses came to light after an anonymous Stanford staff member criticized the decision and questioned department leadership in an email that circulated within the athletic department.

“Stanford Athletics did provide modest bonuses to select support staff who went above and beyond their scope of regular duties, in many cases at great personal sacrifice and on a nearly 24/7 basis, to provide an opportunity for our football, men’s basketball and women’s basketball student-athletes to continue their seasons,” Stanford Athletics said in a statement to the Chronicle last Thursday.

Stanford declined to say how many bonuses were handed out or the amounts awarded, but indicated they were less than what was cited in the email, which said they started at $5,000, according to the Chronicle, which obtained an email copy.

“After cutting 11 sports, supposedly due to budget constraints, it is the definition of hypocrisy for the department to be secretly handing out bonuses to the staff of some sports and not others, especially considering the cost of keeping these teams on the road for weeks,” said Jeremy Jacobs, a Stanford alumnus and the spokesman for Save Stanford Men’s Volleyball.

In December, the Stanford football, men’s basketball and women’s basketball teams left campus for extended trips to play games that were forbidden under Santa Clara Country’s strict coronavirus protocols. In the case of football, a traveling party of over 130 individuals spent almost three weeks on the road, decamping to the Pacific Northwest and then to Santa Barbara, in the pursuit of completing three Pac-12 games.

All other fall and winter Stanford sports remained sidelined at the time. In recent weeks, a handful of Cardinal teams have begun competition and practice. Stanford’s goal is for all its teams to complete a season this spring. For 11 teams — 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 — it is slated to be their final season.

An open letter from Muir, university president Marc Tessier-Lavigne and provost Persis Drell on July 8 described a bleak and deteriorating financial situation that led to the decision to cut sports and implement cost-saving measures. Many coaches and all of athletic executive staff took voluntary pay reductions, operating budgets were tightened and 10 percent of staff was laid off.

The letter stated that the athletic department had worked to “exhaust all alternatives before making profound changes in our programs.” That point has been strongly disputed by supporters of the eliminated sports, who said they and others in the Stanford community were never asked for financial help prior to the unexpected announcement. In recent months, more than $40 million in pledges has been raised to endow the targeted sports.

In Thursday’s statement, Stanford said the bonuses were necessary to attract and retain “great coaches and staff members.” In the statement, Stanford indicated that this spring more bonuses will be forthcoming, “for those required to go beyond the normal call of duty.”

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