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Stanford to cut 11 varsity sports, cites pandemic as breaking point

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Stanford AD on cuts: 'This has been a heartbreaking day for all of us' (1:46)

Stanford athletic director Bernard Muir breaks down what went into the difficult decision to cut 11 varsity sports. (1:46)

Stanford, which has long boasted one of the most robust collections of varsity sports in the country, will cut 11 of its varsity programs at the conclusion of the 2020-21 academic year as it deals with the ongoing financial ramifications of the coronavirus pandemic.

The 11 sports that will be discontinued 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.

Coaches and athletes were notified of the decision via Zoom conferences on Wednesday.

"As you can imagine, this has been a heartbreaking day for all of us, especially with those student-athletes and coaches involved," Stanford athletic director Bernard Muir said. "We came to this decision only [after] exhausting all other viable alternatives. It recently became painfully clear we would not remain financially stable and support 36 varsity sports at a nationally competitive level, which is what we desire."

The school announced the decision in an open letter to the Stanford community on behalf of Muir, president Marc Tessier-Lavigne and provost Persis Drell. The letter stated that continuing to fund 36 athletic programs was "not sustainable" and that alternatives such as budget reductions and fundraising were "insufficient to meet the magnitude of the financial challenge before us."

"These 11 programs consist of more than 240 incredible student-athletes and 22 dedicated coaches," the administrators wrote in the letter. "They were built by more than 4,000 alumni whose contributions led to 20 national championships, 27 Olympic medals, and an untold number of academic and professional achievements. Each of the individuals associated with these programs will forever have a place in Stanford's history."

Stanford will honor all of its scholarship commitments and assist any athletes who wish to continue their careers elsewhere.

Coaches' contracts also will be honored.

Stanford cited an already dire situation before the coronavirus spread throughout the United States. The school projected the deficit to exceed $12 million in the fiscal year, which would "grow steadily."

Then came the pandemic, which it said exacerbated the issue.

"We've been punching above our weight for quite some time," Muir said. "It just became more acute and became such a large issue, we had to take this measure."

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Isola: Stanford's cuts are a 'sign of things to come'

Frank Isola and Mike Wilbon agree that if a school as wealthy as Stanford has been put in a position to cut 11 sports, it doesn't look good for other colleges and universities across the country.

Before the cuts to the 11 programs, the school estimated a best-case scenario of a $25 million deficit in the fiscal year and a cumulative shortfall of $70 million over the next three years.

"The primary alternative to this decision would have been a broad and deep reduction in support for all 36 of our varsity sports, including the elimination of scholarships and the erosion of our efforts to attract and retain the high-caliber coaches and staff needed to provide an unparalleled scholar-athletics experience," the administrators wrote in the letter. "After considering the effects of this model, we determined that operating our varsity athletics programs in this manner would be antithetical to Stanford's values and our determination to be excellent in all that we do.

"While painful, the discontinuation of these 11 sports at the varsity level and the associated reductions in our support staff will create a path for Stanford Athletics to return to fiscal stability while maintaining gender equity and competitiveness."

The letter gave several criteria for how the school chose which programs to cut, including fan interest, potential savings and the impact on Title IX compliance, as well as each sports' history at Stanford and their prospects for future success.

While Stanford is hardly alone in discontinuing athletic programs in recent months, it is the first to make such a high number of cuts.

Recently, UConn eliminated four teams to reduce its overall offering to 20 sports.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.