College reinstates men’s varsity sports in significant policy reversal

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JAMIE HOLT / THE FLAT HAT

Thursday Nov. 5, College of William and Mary President Katherine Rowe announced in a statement that the College would be reinstating the four men’s sports that had been cancelled earlier in the fall semester. The announcement came shortly after the College announced the reinstatement of the women’s swimming, gymnastics and volleyball teams due to Title IX incompliance.

According to the statement, men’s swimming, gymnastics and indoor and outdoor track and field will continue to compete at the College’s Division I level through at least the 2021-22 academic year. Until then, Tribe Athletics conduct a more thorough review of its gender equity and financial status.

Rowe emphasized that the College will use this extra time to come up with solutions to its myriad of problems.

“Without the infusion of a significant amount of new funding, financial pressures on the athletic department that led to the Sept 3 decision remain and will require a smaller portfolio of sports,” Rowe said in her statement. “The additional time allows for creative solutions and new resources to be identified that could provide alternative paths to financial sustainability.”

In the statement, Rowe announced that the College would complete a gender equity review before June 30, 2021.

“The review should explore viable scenarios for reaching full compliance with Title IX during the 2022-23 academic year,” Rowe said. “The review should also model financial impacts of any scenario presented. William & Mary Athletics will enlist appropriate expertise and assign a principal to lead the effort.”

“Without the infusion of a significant amount of new funding, financial pressures on the athletic department that led to the Sept 3 decision remain and will require a smaller portfolio of sports.The additional time allows for creative solutions and new resources to be identified that could provide alternative paths to financial sustainability.”

She also disclosed that Tribe Athletics would be publishing a two-year fundraising plan by Feb. 1, 2021 that would expand on the report conducted by Interim Athletic Director Jeremy Martin’s Ph.D. ’12 M.B.A..

“The plan should be designed to cover operating costs through AY22-23,” Rowe said. “Fundraising will build on the work done by the Tribe Club Executive Committee and William & Mary Foundation Athletics Sub-Committee. We will treat this as a mini-campaign and University Advancement staff and I will join wholeheartedly in that effort.”

After the reinstatement of the women’s teams, many female athletes expressed disappointment that their male counterparts would still be unable to play. Twenty-six female track and field athletes took direct action, signing an open letter to the Board of Visitors and the College committing to a boycott of the upcoming season if all of the discontinued men’s teams were not reinstated. Martin played a large part in the decision-making process and described the reset in plans.

“Since early last month, we have been engaged in a conversation about how to structure William & Mary’s Division I athletics offerings in a way that is equitable, financially sustainable and excellent,” Martin said in an email. “After listening and learning, it was abundantly clear a reset was needed to ensure we pursued the optimal path forward for William & Mary.”

He also expanded on the phased plan communicated by Rowe in her initial statement.

“Our first task will be to execute a gender equity review, which will be completed by no later than next August,” Martin said. “Simultaneously, we will work on building a two-year fundraising plan for every varsity sport.  After the gender equity review is completed, additional fundraising milestones related to endowments will need to be established. Additionally, we will work with all department staff to continue to restructure the athletics costs so that a sustainable model is in place by FY23, and beyond. Throughout these phases, we need to regularly invite our community into conversation on our progress.”

Since the original decision to discontinue the seven varsity sports Sept. 3, there has been a steady stream of pressure exerted on the College by student athletes, faculty and alumni.  Groups were created to petition the College to rethink its decision. With the reinstatement of the last four originally discontinued sports, members of the College’s community have had their voices heard.

One of these groups, Save the Tribe Seven, expressed its commitment to continue working toward a solution.

“While this is an achievement to be proud of, there is still more to come in the future,” the group said in a tweet. “The longevity of the men’s swimming, gymnastics, and indoor/outdoor track teams is still in question.”

Martin acknowledged their work and commitment of student athletes throughout the semester, emphasizing the need to work together to find the best solution.

“Our student-athletes have been exceptional throughout this process,” Martin said.  “The level of maturity, concern and compassion they have shown for each other truly embodies our core values of belonging and respect. I hope to have the opportunity to earn their trust as we move forward together.”