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College Sports and COVID-19

As the financial pressures mount on colleges from multiple fronts, the fate of college sports hangs in the balance and many teams are being eliminated. All totaled, as of July 8, 51 Division I teams, 56 Division II teams, and 52 Division III teams have been dropped by four-year colleges for reasons related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Among the top academic schools making announcements (thus far):

  • Stanford made the decision to cut 11 varsity programs at the end of the 2020-21 academic year, in its effort to create fiscal stability and gender parity. 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 will play their last season this year (should the circumstances surrounding COVID-19 allow it). The change will impact 240 student athletes, 22 coaches, and 20 support staff positions. Stanford’s official announcement pointed to the escalating costs of operating its large athletics department, including a structural deficit projected to exceed $12 million in this fiscal year and grow steadily in the years ahead. “The COVID-10 pandemic and associated recession have only exacerbated the gap; before these sports reductions, our revised forecasts indicated a best-case scenario of a $25 million deficit in FY21, factoring in the effects of COVID-19, and a cumulative shortfall of nearly $70 million over the next three years.”
  • Facing a $150 million deficit because of the pandemic, Dartmouth eliminated five teams last week: men’s and women’s swimming and diving, men’s and women’s golf, and men’s lightweight rowing. With these changes, Dartmouth reduces the overall number of varsity sports teams to 30. The loss of these programs—and the eight coaching positions and seven staff positions affiliated with the programs—plus additional administrative restructuring in athletics and the closing of the golf course just north of campus is projected to save $2 million. The changes take effect immediately and impact 110 current students-athletes. Dartmouth’s decision also decreases the number of recruited athletes admitted by 10 percent.
  • UConn athletics announced in June that four teams will be eliminated at the end of the 2020-21 season: men’s cross country, women’s rowing, men’s swimming and diving and men’s tennis. This action was taken as part of the university’s overall budget reduction effort and allows athletics to meet a university directive calling for a 25 percent reduction (approximately $10 million) in institutional support by 2023. The move affects 124 student-athletes and at least four coaches. Additionally, the university will reduce the cost of scholarships for several internal units across campus, including athletics, beginning in the 2020-21 academic year. Also, the number of scholarships offered in the sports of men’s golf and men’s track and field will be decreased.

Although not related to the pandemic, Brown announced in the late spring a new initiative to reshape and improve the competitiveness of its varsity athletic program, including the immediate elimination of 11 teams: men’s and women’s fencing; men’s and women’s golf; women’s skiing; men’s and women’s squash; women’s equestrian; men’s indoor track and field, men’s outdoor track and field, and men’s cross country. Two club programs—coed sailing and women’s sailing—will be elevated to varsity status. The university points to an external review process of its athletics programs and the desire to address gender equity and competitiveness, not a measure to address COVID-19 budget related woes. Brown will continue to recruit the same number of athletes, but changes to roster size will lead to different apportionment of those spots.

Just twelve days after announcing cuts to its athletic programs and in response to a tremendous outpouring from current student-athletes and alumni, Brown University reinstated its men’s varsity track and field and cross-country programs.


Current student-athletes impacted by these cuts, who had no advanced notice, may now wonder about transferring to another D1 program to seek opportunities to play. Now would be the time, if you find yourself suddenly without a team, to re-engage with coaches who may have been pursuing you when you were a prospective student to see what your transfer options might be. Prospective students who had been in the recruiting process at Stanford, Brown, and Dartmouth, now most likely find themselves scrambling to convey their interest to coaches at other D1 programs, but may find themselves shut out as coaches in some of these sports may have their recruiting lists fairly well locked down by now.


What about everyone else applying to college this year? Dartmouth and Stanford will transfer those spots from athletic recruiting to the general admissions pool, meaning a few more spaces for prospective students. Dartmouth notes in its release that the elimination of teams will mean 10% fewer recruited athletes in the Class of 2025 which translates to about 20-25 seats in the first-year class. At Stanford, the cuts in the overall number of teams will translate to about 60 freed-up spots in its first-year class.

With universities expected to lose a significant stream of income for its athletics programs, the recent cancellation of fall sports by the Ivy League and the Patriot League, and the pandemic raging in the majority of U.S. states, it’s not unlikely to think that more programs will be eliminated. We’ll update our post as we get more news of changes to athletic programs.

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