What was the process that led to the decision?
A data-driven, principled, and thorough approach was used in the evaluation process, with the end goal of building a stronger, financially sustainable department for the university community to rally around. University leadership, the Athletics Department and the Board of Trustees collaborated on a systematic assessment of costs, opportunities, and threats before ultimately coming to this conclusion. COVID-19 was a factor as it accelerated our timeline and impacted our scope, however, this process was underway prior to the pandemic and resulting economic crisis in higher education.
Criteria for comprehensively reviewing all programs included:
- Impact on gender equity and Title IX compliance.
- Sponsorship of the sport at the NCAA Division I level.
- Number of teams competing nationally in the sport.
- GW history of the program.
- Prospects for future success at GW.
- Community engagement level and potential the sport brings to the university.
- Potential expense savings if the sport is discontinued.
- Investments required to keep the program at, or bring the program to, the desired level of excellence.
- For our non-NCAA teams, whether they may have the ability to continue competing as GW club programs in the same competitions and/or conferences against similar opponents moving forward.
What other options were considered other than reducing sports sponsorship?
Other options were considered but ultimately ruled out in our analysis. To maintain a 27-sport department would have required each of our programs to sustain deeper budget cuts, and given our aspirations of preeminence that was not a viable option for consideration as it would have severely handicapped all sports’ abilities to excel at the national level. Other options discussed included increasing ticket sales, philanthropic support, and corporate sponsorship. However, as the COVID-19 pandemic hit, additional revenue streams have become uncertain as we may be playing in fan-less environments, thus rendering moot our plans for increased ticket revenue. We are also aware that our corporate sponsors and donors face uncertain financial times and/or hardships. Like all other areas of the university, we reduced operating budgets in Athletics and leadership took reductions in compensation.
What led to the timing of this announcement?
By making this announcement now, the full impact will not occur until the end of the 2020-21 academic year. Still, timing for an announcement like this is never ideal. As we face an increasingly restrictive fall and 2020-21 academic year ahead, we felt it was our responsibility to tackle the university’s unprecedented fiscal crisis proactively. We felt compelled to give early notice for what may be the last year of competition for some members of our Athletics community. As mentioned, we exhausted all other options before coming to this conclusion, and once we got to this point it was imperative to us to communicate this news transparently.
How did you determine how many sports to continue?
As we embarked on this process, everything was on the table. We did not take it lightly that any decisions made would have a profound impact on the lives of the people affected by this. It is always our goal to show care in how we serve our students and staff. There was no predetermined number of how these cuts would go, other than to deem what is right for the Athletics Department and the university in our shared quest for preeminence with sound financial decision-making. We kept in mind the NCAA average of 18 sports per institution as well as our disproportionately large size relative to our conference competition. With 27 sports and limited financial resources for all programs to achieve the level of expectation worthy of our world-class institution, we had to make prudent decisions to get where we are. We are also mindful that we may have to revisit our projections and decisions if the 2020-21 sports seasons are further altered due to COVID-19 and the financial crisis in higher education worsens.
Will any of these sports transition to compete as a club program?
After the conclusion of their final varsity campaign in 2020-21, it is our hope that each of these programs continue to compete. The non-NCAA sports of men’s rowing, sailing and men’s and women’s squash can continue to compete in the same or similar conferences against the same competition that they did as varsity programs, and provided that there is suitable student interest and self-sustaining financial support that ensures health, safety, and well-being, we will support these programs in their transition to club sports. If there is sufficient student interest, GW will provide a pathway to continue support for club men’s tennis and women’s water polo teams. Our runners will also still have the option to compete in cross country and/or men’s outdoor track.
Will there be any consideration given to a philanthropic donor offering to fund one of the programs?
While the decision to discontinue these sports after the 2020-21 season is final, there is the opportunity for them to compete as club programs, particularly in our non-NCAA sports. There is a history in several of these sports nationally of programs competing at the highest levels, and even winning national championships, as well-funded club programs. Any future philanthropy directed to our programs that are being discontinued would support them in club sports competition. GW Athletics is fortunate to have a wonderful donor base that continues to grow, and that support will be needed to help ensure the success of our 20 varsity sports moving forward in 2021-22.
Was a fund-raising campaign considered prior to making these decisions?
All options have been on the table as we began evaluating the success of our Athletics Department. As it is our charge to compete with discipline and excellence while giving a world-class student-athlete experience and display for our many constituents, we saw that the Athletics Department is out of scale compared to our peers. As we are positioned today, GW sponsors more sports programs than any other school in the Atlantic 10 Conference. Our 27 varsity programs exceed the next highest number of sports sponsored by an A-10 institution by four (Fordham and La Salle sponsor 23 programs), and our 20 sports that compete within the A-10 trail only La Salle’s 21 programs. While we can do anything, we cannot do everything. We found that the amount needed for a fundraiser to keep these sports viable over the long term would be too high. Once it was determined that we are too large and too expensive in comparison to our peers, right-sizing the department became the priority.
What does this decision say about GW Athletics?
In less than a decade, we jumped from a department that sponsored 22 sports with about 400 student-athletes to a department that had 27 sports with more than 500 student-athletes. This did not lead to the intended broad-based excellence that we expect, but rather an expensive and out-of-size program that could not be sustained. As we now face a deepening financial crisis, it has been crystalized for us that bigger does not mean better. With the full support of the Board of Trustees and university leadership, GW Athletics will be better positioned to excel on the national stage in our next century of competition.
Will there be additional reductions in sports sponsorship in the future?
This decision was made with the goal of a sustainable financial future that will allow GW Athletics to fulfill its mission of being a highly visible display of discipline and excellence. We are confident that after this reduction we will be poised for excellence in the foreseeable future. However, we remain mindful that our projections and decisions could be forced to change if the COVID-19 pandemic and the financial crisis in higher education worsens. We hope that is not the case.
How do these changes impact Title IX compliance?
GW Athletics has a storied history of success in our women’s sports, and we are proud to count one of our student-athlete alumnae as our Director of Athletics. Title IX and women’s sports have provided countless opportunities for women to achieve, compete, and lead that previously were not guaranteed. We will continue to proudly provide equitable opportunities for both female and male student-athletes to compete at an elite level academically and athletically, with athletics opportunities that will be in proportion with our undergraduate gender profile once the transition is complete in 2021-22.
Will there be an impact on diversity in the student-athlete community after these changes?
As a leading research institution situated in the heart of our nation’s capital, the university and our Athletics Department attract students from across the world. We are steadfast in our commitment to foster a diverse, equal, and inclusive environment for all. There are several sports that are being impacted that have historically attracted international student-athletes to the university, however, a priority will still be placed in our remaining sports on recruiting high-quality student-athletes from around the world to study, live, and explore at GW. This does not change our commitment to focusing on and striving for diversity in our athletics programs.
What are the plans to support affected student-athletes?
For many athletes who are seeing their years of competitive sports coming to an end, this is incredibly difficult. Mental health is a primary concern for all students at the university, and our student-athletes are no different. We maintain high alertness to the mental health and well-being of this population, understanding that 18- to 22-year-old people are particularly at risk. Our student-athletes will be supported appropriately—not just limited to the student-athletes who compete in the impacted sports but also the remaining student-athletes who may be impacted in other ways. The university’s Counseling and Psychological Services have been made available.
All existing athletic scholarship agreements will be honored for any student-athlete whose sport is being reduced from varsity status if they choose to continue their education at GW. They will also have the support of academic services, sports medicine, strength and conditioning, and the other support areas in which we are able to aid our student-athletes throughout 2020-21, provided that they remain in good standing with the NCAA and the university during the coming academic year, and campus conditions allow for it. By announcing the effective date one academic year in advance, we will provide our student-athletes with an opportunity to compete, if safe to do so, for one year and additional time to evaluate whether to transfer to another institution where they may continue to pursue competitive athletics.
What are the plans to support affected coaches?
Employment contracts of all coaches will be honored. If a coach chooses to explore employment outside of the university before the end of their contract, the university will support that decision and show appropriate care for our career-driven professionals. We know that coaching is more than a job. It is a lifestyle and our coaches are dedicated to the growth of the young people they mentor. We share their commitment.
Will incoming affected student-athletes who opt not to enroll at the university after this decision receive a refund for their deposit?
Yes, and they should work with the Office of Admissions to receive this. Any payments made prior to the first day of fall classes will also be refunded in full if the student drops all registered courses.
Given the unknown of how COVID-19 will continue to affect competition, if a program is otherwise unable to field a full, competitive roster in the upcoming season, what are the plans?
The 2020-21 academic year is the final academic year in which we will field varsity programs in these sports. If for any reason the teams are unable to compete, the timeline remains the same.
How much money will the Athletics Department save as a result of this decision?
Financial savings cannot be tabulated in one total sum. Savings will phase in gradually as competition ceases in 2021-22 and student-athletes come off scholarship in the next several years, in addition to savings in a variety of other areas, including: travel savings, compensation and operation (facilities costs, equipment, meals, etc.). However, this decision is not strictly related to cost savings. We have been underfunded, and our facilities and our support staff have been spread thin, in supporting 27 championship-level programs, so the reduced need to get all programs to the requisite support level to achieve excellence is another form of savings.
Did the university consider using a portion of its endowment to keep these sports?
An exploration of the university’s endowment showed holdings designated for specific future uses, including need-based financial aid for our student body. This made usage by any one area of the university unfeasible to address a budget shortfall and would still not make Athletics sustainable over the long term. Athletics is not a revenue-generating proposition for the university and is already reliant on university support. The endowment exists to support all university endeavors in perpetuity, guaranteeing future generations of GW students, staff, faculty, and researchers the same opportunity to change the world.
How will GW utilize any savings realized through this process?
While savings will be seen over the course of years, these cost-containment measures will help to shrink the revenue deficit that the university is forecasting, while we will continue to pursue additional revenue generation to support our remaining student-athletes.