Stanford Olympians lobby school to not cut 11 sports programs
Two prominent Stanford Olympians on Thursday called on their alma mater to reinstate the 11 sports the university intends to cut because of budget issues exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Fencer Alexander Massialas and water polo great Maggie Steffens said during the virtual Olympic media summit that Stanford can create a model the rest of the country can follow.
“Stanford sets an example amongst all the other NCAA schools as to how to have successful programs while also maintaining academic and athletic excellence across every single sport,” said Massialas, a two-time Olympic medalist in foil.
Football and men’s basketball are the two major revenue-producing sports and get the most resources and attention at Division I schools.
“Right now it is extremely dire,” Massialas added. “Everyone should acknowledge the current NCAA model is broken.”
In July, Stanford officials announced they would cut 11 sports at the end of this academic year. The sports are 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.
In the past year, 352 NCAA programs — mostly Olympic sports — have been cut, according to ESPN.
Massialas, of San Francisco, was a three-time All-American at Stanford who graduated in 2016 with a degree in mechanical engineering. He is scheduled to compete at the Summer Olympics in Tokyo in July.
Although water polo is not one of the sports targeted for elimination, Steffens, 27, expressed concerns about the cuts.
“It’s not always about what makes the most money or what gets put on TV,” said Steffens, a two-time gold medalist from San Ramon. “That’s what makes the Olympics so amazing; we get to showcase what we do. We get to showcase our passion.”
Steffens, who won three NCAA titles at Stanford, said collegiate sports promote the health of the Olympic programs.
“Because they’re not on TV or famous or making as much money doesn’t mean the effort and years aren’t the same,” said Steffens, considered one of the world’s best players heading into the Tokyo Games.
A group of prominent alumni launched a lobbying effort called 36SportsStrong to stop the sports from being cut. Massialas and Steffens are among the 3,360 supporters to sign a petition asking university officials to reconsider their decision.
The 36 represents the number of sports Stanford has been fielding. The school has more than double the national average of sports programs.
Some of the famous alumni supporting the group are Andrew Luck, Keri Walsh Jennings and Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J).
Other prestigious athletics who have signed the petition are Jennifer Azzi (basketball), Tony Azevedo (water polo), Bob and Mike Bryan (tennis), Julie Foudy (soccer), Jessica Mendoza (softball), Mike Messina (baseball), Jordan Morris (soccer), Summer Sanders (swimming), Keri Strug (gymnastics) and pro golfer Michelle Wie West, a Stanford grad.
The 11 sports scheduled for elimination have won a total of 20 national championships and 27 Olympic medals, according to a Stanford letter to its community.
The July 8 letter, attributed to university president Marc Tessier-Lavigne, provost Persis Drell and athletic director Bernard Muir said the athletic department faced a projected $25 million deficit in the fiscal year 2021. The executives said they forecast a shortfall of almost $70 million over the next three years.
Stanford does not make as much as many other Power Five schools based on attendance for football and men’s basketball. As a private university, its budgets are not publicly available.
The situation at Stanford and across the country led the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee in February to form a College Sports Sustainability Think Tank seeking to find solutions to the financial crisis.
“Our country’s unique college system is critical not just to the health of our Olympic and Paralympic teams, but to the longstanding vitality of sports across our country,” USOPC chief executive Sarah Hirshland said in a statement. “Now is the time to assemble leaders who are passionate about keeping this ecosystem strong for today’s athletes and for the generations to come.”
The group, 36SportsStrong, is scheduled to meet with Tessier-Lavigne and other leaders at the school on Tuesday, according to an email sent to this news organization.
“When the cuts were announced one of the first thoughts I had was this would be devastating not only to the fencing pipeline, not only because Stanford has strong programs on the West Coast for fencing” but to the country,” Massialas said.
He said USOPC members expressed concerns that the cuts would have a big impact on the United States’ Olympics chances eight or more years in the future.
“That is why there are so many different organizations trying to fix this model,” Massialas said.
Jeremy Jacobs, a former Stanford men’s volleyball player, said the group has raised about $20 million in pledges. He said the alumni plan to ask school executives for several years to grow the total endowment to about $100 million, which Jacobs said would be sufficient to sustain all 11 sports.