The economic impact of COVID-19 is felt throughout college sports. While Division 1 football and basketball take center stage, the loss of income from these sports and other belt-tightening measures have prompted many schools to eliminate a variety of other varsity-level sports. The reason for this may be that these sports do not generate enough income to support their programs. At other times it looks like women’s teams protected by Title IX remain while the men’s programs in those sports do not.
School sends mixed messages
The women’s track team for the storied college of William & Mary recently announced in a letter to the administration that it will not wear the school’s uniforms when they compete unless the school reinstituted the men’s program. The school announced on Sept. 3 that it would discontinue men’s track and field, men’s and women’s swimming and women’s volleyball because of budget deficits. Then on October 19, the administration announced it would reinstitute women’s volleyball, gymnastics and swimming to avoid a Title IX lawsuit.
The student’s statement (as well as a jersey) taped to the president’s residence read in part:
“We will begin a campaign of passive resistance to the unfair practices and policies of the College’s administration, including the dishonest manner in which these decisions were arrived at. As such, you can expect to see us front and center voicing our concerns about these issues; you can expect us to take our argument to our student body, to our faculty, and to our alumni; what you should not expect is for us to show up in uniform, representing this institution, until this matter is resolved. A College that does not share these core values is not a College to be valued.”
While there have been loud complaints regarding similar decisions at schools across the country, the W&M women have taken those complaints further, perhaps buoyed by the surge in athlete activism that has been modeled this year by professional athletes.
The letter highlights a lack of transparency in the school administration as well as a shifting narrative regarding its reasons. There are also accounting (or lack thereof) issues regarding the endowments attached to the men’s and women’s track program and other programs – donors often target a sport or activity, and the W&M athletic department has been unable to explain the inconsistencies.
Likely a growing issue
The school conducted an internal audit, and the athletic director recently resigned. However, there are still unanswered questions regarding eliminating the programs and paying for the remaining ones. While this is one example, there will likely be more news of the discontinued programs sinks in with athletes, alumni and others.