In what it termed a “wrenching decision” that will impact 118 student-athletes and 13 coaches, William & Mary on Thursday announced the discontinuation of seven varsity sports after the 2020-21 academic year comes to an end.
Men’s and women’s gymnastics, men’s and women’s swimming, men’s indoor and outdoor track and field, and volleyball will be allowed to compete one more season provided the university deems it safe within parameters of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Student-athletes and coaches in the eliminated sports were informed of the university’s decision, which was made by university and athletics leadership with full support of the Board of Visitors, Thursday afternoon. Due to restrictions in place because of the ongoing pandemic, the team and coaches meetings were held by videoconference.
“So many of us who work in intercollegiate athletics do so with a singular purpose: to impact the lives of our student-athletes,” Huge said in a statement. “On most every other day, we are working tirelessly to enhance their experience at William & Mary, and that is why today is so difficult to know that our decision — while necessary — is devastating for our students.
“As a department, we simply can no longer continue on an unsustainable financial trajectory. We will do everything that we can for the impacted student-athletes and coaches, and I sincerely hope they are able to participate in one final season of competition. Today is a sad day for all of us who love William & Mary.”
The university pledged to honor all current athletic scholarships of those affected through their scheduled graduation at William & Mary. Those wishing to transfer will have the full support of the university.
Impacted coaches will be able to complete their current appointments.
W&M currently sponsors 23 varsity sports, more than any other full-time Colonial Athletic Association member, despite having the smallest enrollment of undergraduate students. According to a 2019 report by the Pictor Group, which was commissioned by the university, W&M supports 38% more student-athletes than other schools in the CAA. That same study concluded the Tribe spends 32% less per student-athlete than its league partners.
With 16 sports as of 2021-22, W&M projects to eventually save $3.66 million annually once it honors current scholarships and coaching contracts. That money will go to reducing the athletic department’s deficit.
“The costs associated with operating a department that sponsors 23 varsity teams — and what is now required for them to excel at a high level — have grown dramatically over time,” the letter from Rowe, Agouris and Huge read. “These have become unsustainable. The pandemic has made these budget constraints acute and has brought us to a point of reckoning. …
“These seven programs were built by more than 5,000 alumni whose contributions led to 22 Colonial Athletic Association championships, 36 All-Americans, two national champions, one Olympian, three Rhodes Scholars, 29 Phi Beta Kappas and many professional achievements. We honor their accomplishments and feel deep gratitude for all that they have done to elevate William & Mary.”
William & Mary is at least the 24th Division I school to cut a program (or more) since the COVID-19 outbreak in March.
The university had previously implemented cost-cutting measures that included voluntary salary reductions for Huge as well as head coaches Mike London (football), Dane Fischer (men’s basketball) and Ed Swanson (women’s basketball). W&M also reduced operating expenses across the department and instituted a hiring freeze.
The university conducted multiple reviews over the last two decades, all of which concluded sponsoring 23 sports was not sustainable without a significant increase in funding. W&M reported one of its strongest fundraising campaigns in years in 2019-20 but said the “financial realities” of COVID-19 only accelerated the need to reduce its sports inventory.
W&M calculated the annual budget needed to sustain the seven sports at a “nationally competitive varsity level” would be $5.84 million. Any endowment to fund those programs at that level would need to be approximately $150 million, according to the letter.
W&M laid out several criteria for why these seven sports were chosen. Among them: support from alumni and donors, potential for revenue, proven or likelihood of success, operating costs, facilities and diversity/gender equity.
Also considered was viability as an NCAA sport. Currently, there are 15 Division I men’s gymnastics teams recognized by the NCAA. The loss of the program at W&M and at the University of Iowa, which eliminated men’s gymnastics and three other sports two weeks ago, will drop that to 13.
There are 61 women’s gymnastics teams currently recognized by the NCAA.
“William & Mary remains committed to our vision of student-athletes who pursue excellence in many different domains of their lives,” Rowe, Agouris and Huge wrote. “This vision has stood the test of time for decades. We will continue to take a disciplined, mission-focused approach to weathering the current financial conditions with a focus on the future.
“William & Mary Athletics will emerge with a sustainable, nationally competitive program for our student athletes. Without this decision, we would not be in a position to achieve those goals moving forward.”
The letter also addressed announcing this decision in early September.
“There is no good time to deliver such devastating news,” it read. “We decided to move forward with the announcement now to provide our student-athletes and coaches with as much time as possible to explore options in the coming months, should they elect to continue their collegiate athletics careers elsewhere.“We are committed to a final season for these programs (pandemic permitting), as we believe that our student-athletes deserve it.”