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Stanford to reinstate all 11 discontinued varsity sports

Reversal follows months of student, athlete, alumni activism

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Stanford will reinstate all 11 varsity programs slated to be discontinued following the 2020-21 academic year, in a shocking reversal that follows months of student, athlete and alumni activism. 

The sports — 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 all retain varsity status next fall.

Stanford cited “changed circumstances including newly galvanized philanthropic interest” in an official announcement of the decision at noon on Tuesday, which was first reported hours earlier by the San Francisco Chronicle. Athletes from at least one of the affected teams were informed of the reversal by coaches this morning. 

“It feels incredible to be reinstated and get another opportunity to sail,” a current Stanford sailor told The Daily. “Our team has been fighting hard at every practice and regatta to prepare for what we thought might be our last nationals, but now we are even more motivated to bring home the trophy.”

According to the university’s FAQ page regarding the decision, none of the student athletes on any of the 11 teams officially transferred to another school, while one head coach — wrestling’s Jason Borrelli — took a job elsewhere.

Since last July’s announcement, numerous current students, athletes and alumni have spoken out, raising millions of dollars and protesting the decision to cut sports on and off the field, but the University stood by its decision. It wasn’t until University President Marc Tessier-Lavigne agreed to meet with leaders of 36 Sports Strong, an advocacy group fighting for reinstatement, in early April, that Stanford publicly showed signs of changing course.

Following the 36 sports strong rally, some athletes sprayed “You can’t cut us” and other slogans with red and white washable chalk on Building 10, the office of the University president. (Photo: ERIN WOO / The Stanford Daily)

As of April 7, 36 Sports Strong had raised more than $30 million in pledges, bringing the total amount of monetary support for the sports to more than $50 million when combined with existing endowments, according to organization representative Jeremy Jacobs ’06. 

This newfound philanthropic support, coupled with improvements in the university’s investment outlook through endowments such as the DAPER Investment Fund, helped spur talks between the two sides.

“My heart is full of joy for the students who are getting their teams back,” said Stanford women’s basketball alum and current member of 36 Sports Strong Jennifer Azzi ’90 in the joint statement. “How they performed on and off the field represents the very best of Stanford. They deserve a lot of credit.”

This year, wrestling’s Shane Griffith and synchronized swimming each won national championships. Throughout their respective seasons, wrestling and multiple other teams supposed to be cut wore uniforms without the Stanford logo or letters to protest the decision.

Shane Griffith won a national title while wearing an all-black uniform stripped of Stanford insignia in protest of the athletic department. (Photo courtesy of Keep Stanford Wrestling)
Members of the synchronized swimming team gather for a picture with the championship trophy on the deck of Avery Aquatic Center
Stanford synchronized swimming won a national championship in what was slated to be its last season. (Photo: STANFORD UNIVERSITY ATHLETICS)

Besides 36 Sports Strong, alumni groups for individual sports such as Save Stanford Field Hockey and Keep Stanford Wrestling formed over the past year as well, working in cooperation with each other.

“It feels like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders,” said wrestling’s redshirt freshman Jaden Abas to The Daily. “One that was put on there since the decision last July. It is almost unbelievable.”

“I’m super thrilled,” a current Stanford fencer told The Daily. “I can’t wait to get back into the gym and train.”

Two groups of athletes from the 11 sports recently filed lawsuits against the University. It is unclear whether those lawsuits will move forward now that the sports have been reinstated, but Stanford officials reached this decision “independent of their filings,” according to Tuesday’s announcement.

“To the more than 5,000 alumni and Cardinal faithful who signed our petition: Stanford heard you,” wrote 36 Sports Strong representatives in a statement on Tuesday. “This is the beginning of a better future for Stanford Athletics, and it was only possible because of your support. Thank you.”

This is a developing story and will be updated.

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The author's profile picture
Jeremy Rubin is a managing editor in the sports section. He is a sophomore from New York City studying Human Biology and is an avid Yankees, Knicks and Jets fan who enjoys long walks and good podcasts. Contact him at jrubin 'at' stanforddaily.com.