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Stanford, the NCAA’s most successful intercollegiate athletics program, cuts 11 varsity sports

Of all the cases of athletic departments making changes due to Covid-19, this is the most shocking.

The Stanford Tree mascot dances with the Stanford cheerleaders during the NCAA Second Round Womens Basketball game between the Stanford Cardinal and BYU Cougars on March 25, 2019 at Maples Pavilion in Palo Alto, CA. Photo by Bob Kupbens/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The inaugural NACDA Learfield IMG College Directors’ Cup, an award given to the Division I school with the most points acquired via success across all sports, was won by North Carolina in 1993-94.

But every single year in the 25 college athletics seasons since since, the award has been won by the Stanford Cardinal. And now that tradition is in danger, as today one of the most prolific and admired collegiate athletics programs in America will cut 11 of their 36 varsity sports after the 2020-21 season.

The 11 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.

This is heartbreaking news to share. These 11 programs consist of more than 240 incredible student-athletes and 22 dedicated coaches. 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.

We will do everything we can to support the student-athletes, coaches and support staff members affected by this decision. We will honor all existing athletics scholarship commitments to the student-athletes throughout their undergraduate experiences at Stanford, and we hope they choose to remain on The Farm and earn their Stanford degrees. Should any student choose to continue their collegiate athletics career elsewhere, however, we will support them in every way possible. The contracts of affected coaches will be honored, and any support staff whose employment is ending will be provided with severance pay. All of the affected sports will have the opportunity to transition to club status after they conclude their 2020-21 varsity season.

Of all the colleges cutting programs due to the challenges of Covid-19, this is by far the biggest stunner. Stanford has a $27 billion endowment for about 15,000 students, of which under 7,000 are undergrads. The massive success of the Cardinal across all sports has been a huge point of pride for the institution that some rank over the Ivy League schools both academically and athletically.

It’s a new paradigm in college athletics, and non-revenue sports appear to be one of the first casualties. Even though many of these sports often pay for themselves via tuition paid by those that can afford it, that’s not how the internal auditors and accountants see it. Smaller sports appear to be going by the wayside, and the NCAA rule requiring Division I schools to keep 16 teams might be the only thing keeping many “Olympic sport” programs alive.

And if The Farm isn’t safe from athletics budget cuts, there likely isn’t a program in college sports that isn’t at least thinking about doing the same.