Nearly a year later, the Stanford Athletic Department is still unable to explain its decision to cut 11 varsity programs. Reading between the lines of a recently obtained six page internal memo of talking points reveals the school knows its numbers do not add up, and it still cannot get its story straight.
Here Are 10 Startling Hints Hiding in Stanford’s Talking Points:
1. The Real Issue Isn’t Finances or Competitive Excellence
The real issue is about the very limited number of admissions slots at one of the world’s most prestigious universities. It wasn’t that long ago, November of 2019, that Stanford halted its three year long effort to expand both the size of campus and the number of students enrolled. Simply put, the administration botched what is likely the most important initiative for Stanford over the last 50 years. Here is the most glaring question, if the cuts were instigated by a pandemic deficit then why is it necessary to include in your talking points the number of student athletes on campus? “Stanford’s more than 850 varsity student-athletes today represent 12% of our undergraduate population, a far higher percentage than exists at nearly all of our peer institutions.” Here is the reason: Since the county won’t let Stanford increase the number of students on campus, then the next available option is to intentionally reduce the number of admission slots reserved for athletes. Why not just say that? We’re not sure either.
2. Is Stanford Leaving the Door Open to Cut More Teams? Talking points claim, “Even with these changes, which eliminate nearly half of the projected structural deficit moving forward, a $380 million athletics fundraising campaign will be necessary to close the remaining structural deficit and make the necessary investments to sustain excellence in the remaining 25 sports. The Board of Trustees and the university are fully committed to this endeavor.” Stanford admits cutting 11 teams doesn’t balance the budget, it doesn't even reduce it by half and the department is still left with an $11.5 million deficit according to its own forecast. IF Stanford cannot raise enough capital, then more teams could be in jeopardy of being eliminated.
3. It Has Never Been about Deficits and Spending In July 2020 Stanford leaders said, "The decision to discontinue these 11 varsity sports programs comes down primarily to finances and competitive excellence. With so many varsity sports and limited financial resources, we would no longer be able to support a world-class athletics experience for our student-athletes without making these changes.”
This doesn’t add up. Stanford chose to cut 11 teams that are nearly fully endowed and self supporting. Some of these teams are cost neutral to the athletic department budget. For example, Rowing is supported by an existing endowment of $14 million; and other teams such as Squash have a $5.5 million and Fencing has $1.6 million.
The elephant in the room is where the true costs savings lie, administrative staff salaries and compensation.
In the end the school upended its promise to 240 Stanford students to save just $4.5 million out of an annual budget of $150 million, leaving the department with a $11.5 million yearly deficit for the foreseeable future, a larger deficit than it had before the pandemic.
4. It Is Possible to Self Endow All Varsity Programs, Stanford Just Isn’t Willing to Explore the New Model The talking points say it, but Stanford still hasn’t explained it. How “Reinstating all 11 sports would require raising the $200 million necessary to endow these sports at a nationally competitive level on top of the $380 million necessary to sustain the remaining 25 sports.” Stanford has provided absolutely no justification for the $200 million figure. We'd like to see a straightforward breakdown of operating costs that are closer to $130 million. Then, we'd be very interested in supporting a campaign to raise money for a transparently operated Athletic Department. The funds needed to endow these 11 low-budget sports would be far lower than the $200 million Stanford touts in its talking points, and the 11 sports have already accounted for more than $52 million -- 40% of what would be needed -- in less than a year.
5. Layoffs and Voluntary Pay Cuts Were Futile Attempts to Save Money July 2020: “Our entire Athletics executive team and a number of our head coaches, including our head football and basketball coaches, have taken voluntary pay reductions.” But the talking points don’t say how much was saved, how many employees agreed to “voluntary pay reductions,” or if these reductions will be retroactively reimbursed. What we do know is six months later Bernard Muir had enough money to issue bonuses to football and basketball team personnel.
6. No Explanation for Bernard Muir’s Interaction with Rick Singer
The Stanford Daily reported on March 18th a connection between the Athletic Director and Varsity Blues “scandal ringleader Rick Singer.” Yet, the Athletic Department did not address the issue in the “Volunteer Sport Discontinuation FAQ” despite the sailing team being one of the 11 cut programs.
The Stanford Daily: Former sailing coach implicates athletics director in college admissions scandal: Former Stanford sailing coach John Vandemoer claims that Athletics Director Bernard Muir knew college admissions scandal ringleader Rick Singer while Singer was bribing coaches to secure wealthy children admission to elite universities, according to a Netflix documentary released on Wednesday.
7. Transition Support: Another Lie from Stanford Talking points say, “We have committed to providing the opportunity for the 11 discontinued varsity sports to transition to club status, and we are already providing fundraising support to some of them as they actively pursue this transition.”
The truth is the department is providing virtually no support to help teams transition to be a club sport. Does it even matter? No. For NCAA competitive sports like wrestling, fencing, field hockey and men’s volleyball, club status is a dramatic drop-off in status, utterly meaningless to the current coaches and athletes.
8. Stanford Admits It Intentionally Chose to Blindside Its Athletes In talking points that read like they were written by a lawyer preparing for a long onslaught of lawsuits, Stanford admits it intentionally chose to blindside its own athletes mid-career, in the middle of a global pandemic. Classy. “Although broad consultation with various stakeholders may seem appropriate in principle, we did not see a practical way of executing such a protracted approach without triggering extreme uncertainty and animosity that could lead to an exodus of student-athletes, coaches, and recruits across many sports, including those that would ultimately not be cut. This would have had lasting, damaging effects for many of the programs.”
The department upended the lives of 240 student athletes in a 15-minute zoom call during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. In the process, it created "lasting, damaging effects" on its relationship with alumni and donors - thousands of which have signed the 36 Sports Strong petition calling on Stanford to reverse this decision. https://www.36sportsstrong.org/join-us
9. Stanford Admits It Is too Afraid to Try Talking points, “Ultimately, the demonstrated fundraising capacity of the overall pool of athletics supporters was not sufficient to pursue a $580 million target. It is not that Stanford lacks ambition in fundraising, but we do have significant experience in what is feasible.”
It took six months to prove this statement false. $30 million in pledges was raised in the six months after Stanford announced its plan to cut teams. Stanford should engage with its Silicon Valley neighbors and say yes to the Venture Capital community, which is volunteering to help manage each team like a portfolio of start ups, but the University has expressed no interest in creative problem solving.
10. Champions Don’t Settle for “Average”
It’s ironic that a school of Olympic and NCAA Champions justifies cutting programs by reassuring alumni that it will still be “better than average.” Stanford leaders argued in July 2020: “The average Division I athletics program sponsors 18 varsity sports. In fact, only one university at the Division I FBS level sponsored more varsity sports than Stanford prior to this change, and that institution does so with a significantly larger budget.”
Only one school has won the Director’s Cup over the last 25 years: Stanford. And it won those with significantly lower budgets than all those other FBS level schools. How is Stanford disadvantaged?
Volunteer Sport Discontinuation FAQ MARCH 23, 2021