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'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

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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