Upon Further Review, Stanford Sports Cuts Reversed

Sometimes the good guys win.


Such was the case yesterday when Stanford reversed its decision to cut 11 varsity sports—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.


The original decision, announced last July, was met with a thunderous public outcry. In recent months, petitions were signed, lawsuits were filed, and the University took a well-deserved beating in the press. It was, to put it mildly, a PR disaster.


The decision was a travesty, and the way it was handled by the Athletic Department made it much worse.


Coaches of the affected sports were only informed about the cuts minutes before the announcement. The University claimed to have “exhausted all other viable options,” when in fact, no other options had been discussed with teams, alums, or donors.


A school with a $29 billion endowment somehow blamed low-budget sports for the Athletic Department’s financial woes. And when the teams attempted to get some direction on how to save their sports, they were stonewalled.


So why did Stanford relent? How did these sports get reinstated?


The factors that led to this rather stunning about-face included:

  • Pressure from 36 Sports Strong, a high-profile group of Stanford sports alumni including names like Jennifer Azzi, Andrew Luck, Adam Keefe, Julie Foudy, Michelle Wie and Kerry Walsh. Fencer Alex Massialas, a two-time Olympic medalist, and men’s volleyball alum Jeremy Jacobs led the charge.

  • Over $50 million in donor pledges

  • Development of a self-funding model for the affected sports

  • A relentless campaign in the media, led by San Francisco Chronicle columnist Ann Killion

  • The dual embarrassment of having wrestler Shane Griffith (below) win a national championship wearing a singlet with no Stanford logo and the soon-to-be-eliminated synchronized swimming team winning a national title

  • Two separate lawsuits, filed last week, accusing the University of fraud and breach of contract for not disclosing to recruits that it was planning to drop sports, and violation of Title IX laws against gender discrimination.



I was honored to be asked to be a part of the reinstatement effort several months ago. I had written a blog strongly critical of Stanford, entitled "the Unkindest Cut," last July. It became a rallying cry for many of the teams, their fans and alums.


It was circulated throughout the Stanford sports universe, read by 9,400 people (my posts usually have 500-800 viewers), given to the media as background, and used in presentations to raise money for the cause.


I did a half-dozen interviews with national and local media and provided potential strategies to representatives of the fencing, men’s volleyball and wrestling teams. I suggested contacting Killion and worked with her on several stories as she championed the effort. Yesterday I was gratified to receive several emails thanking me for my support and insight. I will treasure them.


So now Stanford joins Dartmouth, William & Mary, Bowling Green, Brown and Clemson in reinstating teams. And yesterday, true to form, Stanford issued a self-serving press release, written in university-speak, attributing the reversal to “an improved financial picture with increased fundraising potential.”


“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,” explained Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne.


Of course, that “philanthropic interest” was present 10 months ago, if Stanford had bothered to pursue it.


The University was also quick to insist that the lawsuits had no impact on the decision, which, if true, was a remarkable coincidence.


Despite all that, Tessier-Lavigne should be applauded for his willingness to meet with the 36 Strong group, admit the university’s error and reverse a terrible, indefensible decision.


It was unfortunate the president found it necessary to issue a face-saving statement about athletic director Bernard Muir, calling him “a staunch advocate for all student-athletes at every stage, both when we collectively faced the wrenching decision to discontinue sports, and as we have worked to construct this new path.”


This is the same Muir, mind you, who reportedly told numerous high school recruits there was no chance their sports would be eliminated, gave no advance warning to the coaches and athletes of the 11 cut sports, refused to provide documentation for his financial projections, declared the cuts were “final,” refused to discuss possible paths to reinstatement, and continued to add highly-paid assistant and associate athletic directors to his already bloated administrative staff.


Muir should get no credit here. In fact, as I wrote back in July, “blaming an athletic department’s deficits on the squash, rowing and synchronized swimming teams is a little like blaming an alcoholic’s addiction on the bar snacks.”


But that’s all behind us now. The charade is over. Justice has prevailed. Stanford’s honor has been at least partially restored.


The good guys have won.

Gary Cavalli - Bowl and League co-founder, author, speaker 

Gary Cavalli, the former Sports Information Director and Associate Athletic Director at Stanford University, was co-founder and executive director of the college football bowl game played in the Bay Area, and previously was co-founder and President of the American Basketball League.

Get in touch//@cavalli49//gacavalli49@gmail.com