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Stanford Reverses Course, Reinstates 11 Programs

Brock Fritz

Stanford University will remain the largest athletic department in the country after the Pac-12 school opted to continue offering all 36 of its varsity sports.

That wasn’t supposed to be the case after 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.

However, Stanford Athletics announced Tuesday that “bolstered by an improved financial picture with increased fundraising potential, Stanford will continue 11 varsity sports that had been slated for discontinuation at the end of this academic year.”

The press release went on to say that “while the structural financial challenges facing Stanford Athletics remain very real, changed circumstances including newly galvanized philanthropic interest have provided a new path to support the 11 sports.”

"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.

Related content: Stanford Explains Decision to Cut 11 Varsity Sports

Tuesday’s announcement came less than a week after Stanford student-athletes sued the private university in California. 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.

The Mercury News reported that Wednesday’s lawsuit alleged that university officials misled students about their opportunities at Stanford. The complaint from female athletes alleged that the cuts would violate Title IX.

Related content: Stanford Athletes Sue as Program Eliminations Approach

At the same time, alumni groups, headlined by 36 Sports Strong, rallied together to advocate and raise funds.

"We are grateful for their engagement, and we are looking forward to getting to work with them," 36 Sports Strong said in a statement, according to ESPN. "Champions persevere, and they find new ways to win. That's what Stanford has done here. Facing challenges, Stanford and its alumni have come together to build a solution that will cement its status as the best Athletics Department in the country."

In last summer’s announcement, 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. ESPN reported that 36 Sports Strong determined the cuts would save Stanford roughly $4.5 million a year, or about 3 percent of the athletic department's budget. According to a Stanford spokesman, the actual savings for cutting the 11 sports would have been roughly $8 million annually. As of last month, about $50 million had been pledged to support the 11 sports.

"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 athletic director Bernard Muir said. "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." 

Related content: Alumni Group Aims to Save 11 Stanford Sports

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