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

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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