Stanford Athletes Sue as Program Eliminations Approach

Brock Fritz Headshot

With 11 Stanford University athletic programs set to be cut at the end of the school year, student-athletes sued the private university in California on Wednesday.

According to The Mercury News, athletes from eight Stanford teams filed a suit in U.S. District Court in San Jose. Separately, a group of women from the fencing, field hockey, rowing, squash and synchronized swimming teams alleged sex discrimination in a complaint.

Stanford announced on July 8, 2020 that 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 would be eliminated at the end of the 2020-21 school year due to budgetary reasons made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Related content: Stanford Explains Decision to Cut 11 Varsity Sports

The Mercury News reported that Wednesday’s lawsuit alleged that university officials misled students about their opportunities at Stanford, which had a nation-leading 36 varsity sports prior to the impending eliminations. The suit alleges that the plan to cut sports was “developed in secrecy for as many as four years,” and that Stanford athletes were given 30 minutes’ notice of a Zoom call in which they learned their college athletic careers were over.

The separate complaint from women athletes noted that the cuts will eliminate more than 100 participation opportunities for female athletes, which would violate Title IX.

“People need to look past the rhetoric and look at how schools are really treating female athletes and that’s what we’re seeing here,” attorney Rebecca Peterson-Fisher said of how schools are frequently violating Title IX, which was enacted in 1972 to prohibit discrimination based on sex in education programs.

Stanford projected a $25 million athletic department deficit in the current fiscal year, and a shortfall of almost $70 million over the next three years. Athletes and alumni have protested the eliminations since they were announced, with a group called 36 Sports Strong forming in an attempt to restore all of Stanford’s programs.

Related content: Alumni Group Aims to Save 11 Stanford Sports

When Stanford announced the program cuts, the letter stated that the specific cuts were decided upon after a comprehensive evaluation of all sports across a broad set of criteria and considerations, including:

  • Sponsorship of the sport at the NCAA Division I level
  • National youth and postgraduate participation in the sport
  • Local and national fan interest in the sport
  • Potential expense savings from the elimination of the sport
  • Incremental investments required to keep or put the sport in a position to achieve competitive excellence on the national level
  • History of the sport at Stanford
  • Prospects for future success of the sport at Stanford
  • Impact on gender equity and Title IX compliance
  • Impact on the diversity of our student-athlete population
  • Impact on the student-athlete experience across all sports, now and in the future
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