Seventy students across four teams—wrestling, men’s and women’s fencing and women’s skiing — learned yesterday that their teams will not exist next year if President Ruth Simmons and the Corporation accept the Athletics Review Committee’s recommendations to cut their programs. Students’ and coaches’ reactions ranged from outrage to disappointment, but all shared a common message — their team must stay.
“I almost didn’t believe (Head Coach Atilio Tass) at first, actually,” said fencing captain Alex DePaoli ’11. “It has been in different kinds of phases over the past year. It always seemed like they were pushing it off to another committee, and it would never end up being anything bad.”
But the Athletics Review Committee — the most recent in a string of four committees that have analyzed the role of athletics at Brown — made its recommendations for implementation yesterday, beginning weeks of debate about how the University should solve concerns about the athletics budget. The University currently fields the third-most teams in the Ivy League on the league’s lowest athletics budget.
“As soon as I heard the news, I have only been thinking one thing the whole time. And that is how do we save these sports programs?” said wrestler Hudson Collins ’11.5.
All four teams will send representatives to meet next week with committee Chair Richard Spies, executive vice president for planning and senior adviser to the president. Spies said the timing of the decision was intentionally spaced weeks before the Corporation’s May meeting so Simmons could receive feedback from student-athletes, coaches and alums before a final decision is made.
“The process is real,” added Margaret Klawunn, a member of the committee and vice president for campus life and student services. “There’s nothing about the process that isn’t a genuine effort to gauge community reaction.”
The four teams are all constructing arguments for their programs to remain on campus.
“We’re hoping to put together a case for why we shouldn’t be cut, trying to show the case for skiing instead of other sports, trying to show how it supports diversity because it’s such an unconventional sport,” said skier Emily Simmons ’12. “It’s not just like an after-school sport like field sports. It’s actually been a lifestyle since we were maybe five or six years old.”
Though the report said the committee is concerned about skiers’ safety while traveling to mountains in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, skiing Head Coach Michael LeBlanc said the worries are unfounded. The team has never had any accidents on the road, and all seven skiers taken to the season’s final competition were academic All-Americans, according to LeBlanc.
Each team will present its case differently. “What they’re doing doesn’t make much sense to me,” DePaoli said. Fencing is “one of Brown’s top-performing teams — we’re 12th in the country. We also rank at the highest or almost the highest grade point average of any of the teams.”
Wrestling Head Coach Dave Amato said he believes his sport is set to be cut because of Title IX, the federal law requiring federally funded athletic programs to offer similar opportunities to men and women. The University lost a Title IX lawsuit in 1995 after it cut four teams, including two women’s teams, due to budget constraints.
“All of the criteria that they listed for dropping sports, we don’t meet any of them. We do meet one — gender equity,” he said. “That’s basically why I think they’re dropping wrestling.”
According to the Athletics Review Committee’s report, wrestling is expensive, takes up admissions slots designated for recruits and does not exist at all Ivy League schools. But Amato said wrestling is entirely self-funded, except for coaching salaries, only takes up seven to nine recruiting slots and is one of the Ivy League’s best and most historic sports.
Even though the committee’s recommendation is not final, the news hit athletes hard yesterday.
“I think it’s hard to reconcile that I have been here for three years and won’t be getting a senior season after putting so much into the sport,” Skinner said.
Recruits from the class of 2015 who have yet to arrive on campus also voiced disapproval of the recommendations. Barrett Weiss ’15, a fencing recruit who was deciding between Harvard and Brown, said he decided to apply early to Brown after he got the impression that fencing was safe from cuts when it was not cut at the fall Corporation meeting.
“I kind of wish I didn’t apply early,” he said. “I would have probably taken another visit to both schools and, I mean, I’m not sure where I would go, but I probably would have looked at Brown less seriously.”
Amato said he was outraged by the decision to cut his wrestling team. “I didn’t see it coming,” he said. “I’ve been here 27 years. I’m going to be out on the street without a job. What am I going to do?”
Fight, apparently. Until the recommendations are either accepted or rejected by the Corporation next month, athletes, coaches and alums will almost certainly be fighting to keep their programs standing.
“I’m a wrestler — we’re all optimistic, right?” Amato said. “We’re not going to go down easy.”