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News, Sports

‘We’re just really hurting right now’: Student athletes express disappointment, anger with sudden varsity sports cuts

Members of squash, ski, track and field teams reflect on Brown’s decision to cut 11 varsity athletic teams

By and
University News Editor and Senior Staff Writer
Thursday, May 28, 2020

At around 12 p.m. EST Thursday, Jacob Good ’22, a member of the squash team, received an email from the Athletics Department inviting him and all student-athletes to an unanticipated Zoom call later that afternoon. An hour later, Good and his fellow teammates were no longer members of a varsity team. Along with 10 other sports, squash was being transitioned from varsity to club status, effective immediately. 

Good and his teammates — including his coach — had not been told about the transition before the Zoom call. The news came as a shock. “We’re just really hurting right now,” Good said. 

The University announced that 11 varsity sports teams — men and women’s fencing, men and women’s golf, women’s skiing, men and women’s squash, women’s equestrian and men’s track, field and cross country — would be transitioned to the club level as part of the new Excellence in Brown Athletics Initiative. Two club sports, coed sailing and women’s sailing, will move to the varsity roster.

Six student athletes interviewed by The Herald expressed confusion and anger at the abrupt termination of varsity athletic careers at Brown, either for themselves or for their peers if their own team was not demoted from varsity. 

Madison McCarthy ’23, a member of the women’s ski team, initially expected that, at worst, the University was cutting funding or canceling the upcoming season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But by the time she entered the Zoom call, Director of Athletics Jack Hayes had already announced the news and she missed it. McCarthy was left to find out that her team had been cut at the same time as the rest of the Brown community, when an email was sent by Christina Paxson P’19 later in the afternoon. 

Naomi Shammash ’22, a member of the women’s squash team, viewed the decision as disrespectful to the work that she and her teammates have put into their sport — undermining their achievements not only as athletes, but as students. Shammash said that the squash team in particular has been recognized for maintaining high GPAs over the course of their careers as athletes.

“This is not about excellence,” Shammash said. “This is about putting funds and putting effort into underperforming teams,” referring to some teams which have consistently low win percentages but have maintained a slot on the varsity roster. 

Derek Davey ’22, a member of the track and field team, echoed the feelings of shock and confusion expressed by Good and Shammash at the news of the roster change.

Track and field does not require expensive training or equipment — unlike some other sports which remain on the varsity roster — leading to a greater diversity of athletes on the team, Davey said. “It’s wild that such a sport wasn’t seen as one that matches Brown’s diversity efforts moving forward,” he added. 

Davey anticipates that students considering the University for athletics, including for teams not among the 11 demoted to club level, may not attend Brown as a result of this decision. “It’s really hard to want to go to a university where athletics isn’t viewed as something of a priority,” Davey said. 

Announcing the initiative and varsity cuts, Paxson wrote that having such a large varsity roster has prevented Brown from reaching some of the athletic program’s aspirations. She also listed the goals of the initiative as, “improving the competitiveness of our varsity athletics, enhancing the strength of our club sports, and upholding our commitment to provide equal opportunities in athletics for women and men at Brown.”

Although Davey doesn’t know what his fall semester will look like, or whether or not he will run for club track and field, he said he will value the “camaraderie” of his team nonetheless.

Women’s cross country and track and field Captain Gracie Whelan ’21 was also disappointed at the news. Although her team was not cut from the varsity roster, she noted that losing the men’s cross country and track and field teams is like losing “half of the team,” given how tight-knit the two squads are in training. 

Transferring to other institutions could be an option for some students who’d like to pursue varsity college athletic careers. 

“A major focus of our work this summer will be to provide assistance in counseling students about their options,” Paxson wrote in the email announcing the roster change, whether they choose to stay at Brown or transfer elsewhere.

But it was not immediately clear to some students if that would be possible at this stage, as some sports transfer deadlines have passed. 

Captain of the cross country and track and field team Bretram Rogers ’21 said his teammates had already missed their deadline to transfer elsewhere to play their sport on a varsity level.

Rogers chose Brown because it doesn’t give out sports scholarships and there would be no chance of his finances changing because of a change in sports funding. But with his varsity team now cut from the roster, he said, “I’m heartbroken. I’ve completely lost a sense of my identity.”

While some may choose to leave Brown, Maximo Moyer ’21, a member of the squash team, said that he expected his team — along with the other cut teams — will advocate for maintaining their status as a varsity sport.

Whelan echoed Moyer’s desire to attempt a repeal of the decision.

“We were in shock for a few minutes before every group chat started to explode with ideas about how we can work to reverse this,” she said.

Both the men and women’s track team are “trying to focus on action instead of being really upset,” she added. “But of course we’re still really upset. We were all on a Zoom call today — everyone was in tears.”

McCarthy felt that the decision to cut teams from the varsity roster contradicts the proposed mission of the Excellence in Brown Athletics initiative when many of the teams moved down to the club level had strong records.

At a Zoom news briefing Thursday afternoon on the initiative, Paxson said the decision making process, which was more than a year in the making, was “a little more nuanced” than looking at teams’ winning percentages. Additional considerations included facilities issues, community support and history of success, among other factors.

“It just doesn’t match up with their decision making,” McCarthy said. “Brown values integrity in their athletes. They have not shown any integrity with what they have done this afternoon.”

“I know it’s going to be difficult for students and members of our community who see their favorite teams transition to club status,” Paxson said. “I know it’s very hard. We’re committed to honoring their history, supporting our students as best as we can.”

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  1. Shoddy treatment of affected kids. Why cut squash? They have been successful programs despite lukewarm support from admissions and poor funding compared to comparable programs. Makes no sense. The men and worn both finished in the top 14 nationally last year. Brown should be ashamed for blindsiding the kids—and cia he’s, too??? Gosh.

  2. Can’t they at least give teams a chance to try to get together funding from alumni and save themselves? It’s really bad that they just blindsided everyone.

    • Eh, yes and no.

      The blindsiding is absolutely awful and at the very least, this should have been an announcement that starting with the 2020-2021 cycle, they would no longer be recruiting for these teams and after 2024 the teams would be cut.

      They basically did “we’re cutting you unless alumni raise money” thing in 2011 with fencing, skiing, and wrestling. Not that there weren’t already 1st and 2nd class varsity teams with regard to university support (budgets, equipment, support staff, practice space, practice times, etc), but to have university funds only being spent on certain teams with other varsity teams be allowed to exist only if they are fully alumni funded is the university openly admitting that there are 1st and 2nd class varsity student-athletes.

      If I’m a high school student-athlete in anything other than 5 men’s sports (football, soccer, basketball, baseball and lax) and whatever the top women’s sports are that fulfill title IX requirements to keep those 5 men’s teams, I’m staying far away from Brown if I want ANY security that my team exists for my 4 years in college, even if alumni funding allowed teams to stay afloat. The other ivies aren’t (publicly) threatening to cut my team if alumni don’t open up their wallets.

  3. Equestrian says:

    “facilities issues, community support and history of success”

    Hard to have good facilities or community support when all the budget is thrown into our losing football team’s locker room and those games are highly advertised. We begged for better facilities or even a shuttle to our home show for fans and we were lucky to get a single line in a mass email, while mens football, hockey and lacrosse fans got free t-shirts or pizza at their games (and about 9 million emails about it). We even fed ourselves at our 12 hour outdoor competitions, because the minuscule lunch stipend doesn’t cover it when you’re out there in the cold from 6 am to 6 pm.

    And we sent multiple people to nationals, won our region, and sent the team to nationals in recent team history.

    • clown university says:

      This is facts. They make it virtually impossible even to spend the money that the team does have — usually syphoning it off to football in one way or another

  4. Alum and former student-athlete says:

    The press release and the move in general were just so insulting to the student-athletes and to the staff that are being demoted or fired.

    I’d love to see the BDH do some digging on this. The fact that Brown brought in a private equity exec (Kevin Mundt) to spearhead an initiative that led to cutting some of the most racially and socioeconomically diverse teams at the school in order to promote sailing to varsity status, whose only point of “excellence” was getting a multi-million dollar donation for a new building, is disgraceful.

  5. Brown Parent says:

    I am so sick and tired of hearing all of these athletes and other SJWs complaining about fairness and racial diversity. How many academically qualified students have been rejected in the name of an athletic program that is at best mediocre or in the name of diversity? I have a feeling that the sailing kids probably are paying their own way and donors are paying the rest. Seriously, as a full pay parent, I am subsidizing so many of these non-full pay athletes and diversity admits that bring nothing academically to Brown and took the spots of academically deserving applicants. In my home town, of the four applicants that were accepted to Brown, three were recruited athletes that don’t hold a candle to the many academic applicants that were rejected. If it were up to me, I’d reluctantly keep a few high visibility sports (like football, basketball, and hockey) and their title 9 equivalents for women, and make the rest of sports walk-on club versions. Admissions should be on academic merit, especially for no-spectator sports that don’t pay their own freight.

  6. Brown Parent says:

    I am so sick and tired of hearing all of these athletes and other SJWs complaining about fairness and racial diversity. How many academically qualified students have been rejected in the name of an athletic program that is at best mediocre or in the name of diversity? I have a feeling that the sailing kids probably are paying their own way and donors are paying the rest. Seriously, as a full pay parent, I am subsidizing so many of these non-full pay athletes and diversity admits that bring little academically to Brown and took the spots of academically deserving applicants. In my home town, of the four applicants that were accepted to Brown, three were recruited athletes that don’t hold a candle to the many academic applicants that were rejected. If it were up to me, I’d reluctantly keep a few high visibility sports (like football, basketball, and hockey) and their title 9 equivalents for women, and make the rest of sports walk-on club versions. Admissions should be on academic merit, especially for no-spectator sports that don’t pay their own freight.

    • Brown Alumni says:

      What an absurd comment. Admissions are based on academic merit. Like artistic talent or musical ability, athletic ability is simply a distinguishing factor between academically excellent applicants. If admissions were based solely on academic ability, the result would be an extremely homogenous student body that excels solely in the SAT/ACT subjects. What a beneficial college experience that would generate.
      Also, how can your argument justify keeping “high visibility sports” like football, basketball, and hockey? Those sports require much greater costs for marketing, recruiting, equipment, and coaching. Football alone has more than 100 players. By the way, Brown is an “Ivy League” school because of its athletic conference. Maybe you would like Brown to relinquish its Ivy League classification altogether?

    • Brown Alum says:

      Your take makes literally no sense. You realize that the “high visibility” sports most exemplify the things you just railed against while the sports that were cut were among the highest academic performers?

    • Brown Alum says:

      Brown Parent is right. I spent my rising senior summer in the 90’s living in Providence with two friends. One was a fellow Brunonian, and the other was a really smart Yalie (went on to Harvard Law) who though it would be fun to summer in Providence with his buddies. He applied for and got himself a job working as a writer in the Brown athletic department. You know what he was writing? He was writing Brown college applications for academically mediocre athletic recruits that would come in and “interview” with him to give him content. He had to write multiple applications each day but was told that all of these “recruits” were essentially already admitted and just needed a grammatically correct application that presented them in the best light. He was under strict orders that the admissions office was not to ever be informed of this “operation.” But every day after work, our Yalie friend would come back and regale US with the qualifications (or lack thereof) of that day’s “recruits.” Technically he was under NDA. He never told us the names. But he did tell us the sports and the scores “anecdotally.” The “non-spectator” sports as Brown Parent refers to (like Sailing, Fencing, Swimming, Track, Cross-Country, etc.) definitely has the highest scores. He only had to check (rather than write) those applications. Football, Baseball, Basketball, and Hockey were pretty bad. Apparently the only academic qualifications these students needed for admission was that they needed to be likely to make it to Brown graduation in one of the easier concentrations. Back then, any athlete with a 1200 on the SAT and a B- average was at risk of being lost to Harvard, Yale, or Princeton, so Brown had to go even lower academically to be able to have any chance of competing athletically with the “upper Ivies.” Football, Basketball, and Hockey were must haves just because of the nature of alumni relations. Apparently, these sports mattered a lot to a large cohort of wealthy alums. Lowering academic admissions standards in these sports was deemed by the development office as a net financial gain for Brown. I have a feeling that Brown admissions knew exactly what was going on all the time but everyone involved wanted plausible deniability.

      The truth is that the Ivy League is in fact an athletic conference. But it was supposed to be an athletic conference where scholars could have a chance of competing athletically with other scholars from other top academic schools because, let’s face it, the best athletes in the world generally aren’t the best scholars. This is a large part of the reason that Ivies collectively agreed not to give athletic scholarships. We aren’t Duke or Vanderbilt. But the cache of a Harvard, Princeton, or Yale degree, especially with generous “need-based” financial aid resulting in a free ride is effectively the equivalent of an athletic scholarship, especially for “almost” top (but middle-class) athletes, not good enough to ever make it to the pros (or big sports schools), but easily good enough to be Ivy conference champions. In a perfect world, athletics, like other extracurricular activities, should be part of the “holistic” admissions process. But they simply aren’t. If you are a recruited athlete, especially at the “poorer” Ivies, you’re getting in. Brown is simply not enough of a draw to compete with HPY for the few high IQ athletes. As an academic applicant, unless you WIN the Intel science competition or equivalent you aren’t afforded the luxury that recruited athletes get. I personally think that if Brown made all sports into club sports, it would dramatically increase the academic prestige of Brown. Brown will never be able to compete with the more moneyed schools. Let’s compete where we can win. If Brown sailing or any of the other “non-spectator” sports can support themselves financially, and the admits can compete academically, more power to them. Let them keep their varsity status. For everyone else, let them earn it both on the field and in the classroom BEFORE they arrive on College Hill.

      Finally, and I know this might be a minor point. But in my years at Brown, the best training equipment at the athletic center was only available to the varsity athletes (I had a friend who played club sports and complained about this all the time). We (our parents) all had to pay for it, but only the athletes got to benefit. I don’t know if this is still the case, but there was always resentment from those of us who had to earn our way through the front door of the Brown admissions office only to be turned away when we wanted to work out at the gym.

  7. Just an alum says:

    Come on man, did you really come to Brown for sports?

  8. Brown, take the lead, and get rid of all sports. Become a truly merit based academic institution.

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