Letters to the Editor, Opinions

Letter: To build distinction in athletics, Brown made painful but necessary decision

Friday, July 17, 2020

To the Editor:

I write as a Brown alumnus, proud parent of two Brown graduates and Chancellor of the University with deep respect for the perspectives of members of our community.

As the parent of a Brown student-athlete whose sport is among those affected by the Excellence in Brown Athletics Initiative, Michael Champa P’21’s July 11 opinion piece reflects his strong opposition to President Paxson’s initiative. I fully understand his anger and frustration, and I have no doubt that I would feel the same way if it were my child. I have the highest admiration for all that it takes to be a student-athlete at Brown and feel terrible for the pain and disappointment that the reduction in varsity teams has caused his son and the other students whose athletic careers at Brown have been affected. There is little that the University can say to ease this pain.

Brown has built its athletic program on the principle of attracting, developing and celebrating scholar athletes — men and women who are dedicated to achieving both academic and athletic excellence. However, there is no denying the fact that while notable pockets of competitive athletic excellence flourish at Brown, our overall athletic competitiveness has severely lagged behind our Ivy peers. Winning 2.8 percent of Ivy League titles over the course of a decade is not the record we should aspire to or be satisfied with. If we wish to reverse this, a different approach is plainly called for.

It stands to reason that fielding the third-largest number of varsity teams in the nation with the smallest athletic infrastructure and budget in the Ivy League is not a formula for success. For this reason, and others that are unique to Brown, our roster sizes on individual teams have been chronically below those of our more competitive peers. The Excellence in Athletics Initiative is aimed at addressing this significant structural impediment to Brown’s competitiveness.

Doing so will not in itself guarantee excellence in Brown’s varsity program, but it is a necessary precondition. The recent decisions at Stanford and Dartmouth to reduce their numbers of varsity teams underscore that the difficult issues of balancing the number of athletic teams and allocation of resources are not ones that we alone are facing.

Reasonable people may differ over which Brown teams should have been chosen for conversion to club status, but the recommendations of the Committee on Excellence in Athletics were made and accepted in good faith based on a careful analysis of the facts and data. I thank each member of the Committee for the care and dedication they brought to what all knew would be a challenging and unenviable task. They were guided only by their deep desire to serve the University, to elevate its athletic standing and to enhance the student-athlete experience.

There is never a good time to make a change like this. While we hope that the affected students will remain and thrive at Brown for their college years, Brown’s decision was released before the June 15 Ivy League transfer deadline for athletes so that they could explore transferring to other Ivies before the coming academic year if they wished. Moreover, with the unfortunate cancellation of the fall Ivy sports season, and the winter and spring seasons still up in the air, this is perhaps the most humane time possible to make this transition.

As we have seen, these are difficult and emotional issues, and it could have been easy to leave them for another day. They are not for the faint of heart, but President Paxson has tackled them with courage, wisdom and an unwavering commitment to excellence in all that Brown does. The Corporation and I stand firmly with her, fully confident that Brown has taken a painful but necessary step on the path to achieving sustainable athletic distinction in a program that builds strength, character and leadership in keeping with Brown’s mission of service to society.

Chancellor Samuel M. Mencoff ’78 P’11 P’15 can be reached via Please send responses to this opinion to and op-eds to

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  1. Michael Champa says:

    It is understandable that you and the Corporation are circling the wagons in support of President Paxson; a certain amount of support and loyalty is to be admired. However, I would suggest that a better course of action would be to address the procedural failings of President Paxson’s Initiative. Your comments reinforce the callousness of Brown’s response and the failure of the University to address a flawed decision-making process. As I said in my Op-Ed, the Brown Community’s unprecedented opposition to the Excellence in Athletics Initiative is not just about athletics.

    You make no mention of the decision to reinstate the Track and Field and Cross-Country teams. You make no mention of Brown’s continued failure to be concerned about gender equity and inclusiveness. You make no mention of the legal problems that the Excellence in Athletics Initiative has caused for the University. Brown spent millions of dollars in its failed defense of Cohen v. Brown. It appears that the University is once again willing to spend money to fight its Title IX obligations resulting from the elimination of five of Brown’s women’s varsity teams. Much of the furor surrounding this initiative could have been avoided had the University been more thoughtful, and transparent.

    I do not doubt that the members of the Excellence in Athletics Committee are hard-working alumni who are truly concerned about athletics at Brown; all the more reason to make their work public and allow the rest of the University community to see and understand the underpinnings of their work. The failure to be open trivializes the Committee’s effort and unfairly puts its members at the center of this controversy.

    It’s time for data and academic inquiry to drive this debate. The pride and egos of Brown’s decision-makers need to be set aside to make this initiative truly excellent.

    Michael Champa, P’21

  2. James Yoon says:

    What would actually take a lot of “courage, wisdom and an unwavering commitment to excellence” would be to stand up and say this was a regrettable mistake with 0 transparency to the larger Brown community. While ostentatious, sleek websites were being built to promote this initiative, student athletes, coaches, and alumni sat completely in the dark.

    Brown’s mission has always been to value progress and the journey over the results and awards. The lessons and friendships I’ve built over my 4 years as a varsity fencer was pivotal to my identity at Brown. This initiative is so grossly misaligned with Brown’s values.

    You, as a non student-athlete, cannot “fully understand his anger and frustration.” If you began to empathize with our pain and anger, you wouldn’t have written this letter. President Paxson is not the one who needs your support. The 149 students who had their dreams crushed do.

    James Yoon ‘17

  3. Kevin A. Seaman '69 says:

    Chancellor Mencoff correctly assesses the dilemma of reaching a determination leading to the termination of a number of varsity programs; the last time Brown undertook the transparent/inclusive/ fulsome review sought by the above writers nothing ended up happening vis-à-vis Brown’s intercollegiate League status/standing. As alien to the applied prescriptions tendered by the writers the executive decision made may have been, it, nevertheless, is one that was necessary to seek to gain the same respectability in athletics that Brown insists be existent in all of its institutional pursuits. Brown’s approach, in fact, was more involved ( blue ribbon panel review, etc.) than that employed by Stanford, Dartmouth, UCONN, and all the other universities which have over the past decade down-sized their varsity programs. Brown’s initiative may not , in fact, produce the end-results sought; but, at least, it presents an initiative that possesses a rational road-map to gaining the destination that Brown has, sadly, never before sought.

  4. First step in the right direction.

    Over time, I would like to see Brown further reduce the number of recruited athletes and instead focus on raising admissions standard so that we can remain competitive with schools that do not emphasize athletics as much, such as the University of Chicago. Athletic recruitment is a major drag on admissions and doesn’t seem to offer much in return to the community.

  5. Perry Boyle P’21 says:

    I echo Mr. Champa’s points on the lack of transparency of the process as inconsistent with Brown’s values. However, I believe the process was driven by fundamental error of principle, and that error is being repeated again and again as we see how Brown responds in this debate. Brown does not exist to win Ivy League championships. It has done just fine as it has been going, with no impact on it selectiveness or yield statistics. Brown exists to educate its students. Is not inclusiveness in athletic endeavor more consistent with Brown’s values than “excellence” in athletics?

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