Stanford athletes sue university in hopes of saving 11 sports set to be eliminated

Stanford athletes filed a pair of lawsuits in federal court this week in hopes of saving the 11 sports that the school is planning to eliminate at the end of this academic year.

Athletes from eight of the 11 teams claim in their lawsuit that the university and its athletic department knowingly deceived athletes with "its secret plan to eliminate varsity teams from the students and their families in order to fraudulently induce the students to choose to attend, and remain, at Stanford, rather than pursue their dreams to play at the varsity level at another institution," according to a news release.

The programs facing elimination are men's and women's fencing, field hockey, lightweight rowing, men's rowing, coed and women's sailing, squash, synchronized swimming, men's volleyball and wrestling.

A separate lawsuit that claims that cutting women's sports teams would violate Title IX law was filed by members of five of the teams facing elimination.

The university announced last July that it intended to discontinue 11 of its 36 varsity program at the end of the current school year. Information on the school's website says that its decision was made after a yearslong deliberation about how to be competitive on a national stage and remain financially sound at the same time. The school said the financial challenge presented by COVID-19 underscored the notion that they could not afford to properly fund three dozen varsity programs.

Since March 2020, 35 Division I schools have announced plans to shutter, indefinitely suspend or downgrade a total of more than 100 teams on their campuses. More than two dozen of those teams have since been reinstated as a result of pushback from athletes and advocacy groups. Many of the reinstated teams -- including programs at Clemson, Iowa, Brown and Dartmouth -- came after groups at those schools filed or threatened to file Title IX lawsuits. Schools are required to offer opportunities to male and female athletes that are proportionate to the gender breakdown of the general student population.

The Stanford group appears to be the first to also sue their university for a breach of contract as well. That suit is being spearheaded by prominent sports attorney Jeffrey Kessler, who is also currently arguing against the NCAA in a Supreme Court case.

"Stanford's misrepresentations to these students and their families is in violation of California law and threatens to cause them lasting irreparable harm," Kessler said in a release earlier this week. "The students are at the top of their game, and will lose the irreplaceable, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to fulfill their dreams to compete at the varsity level if Stanford is not stopped from eliminating these teams. Stanford has to live up to the relationship of trust it created with these athletes and we are seeking an injunction to prevent this injustice."

The lawsuits are not connected with a separate group of high-profile Stanford alumni who have been trying to use fundraising and a novel approach to funding an athletic department to convince the school to change its mind. That group, which calls itself 36 Sports Strong, met with university leadership last month to pitch their idea of creating individual endowments for each sport that is in jeopardy of being cut.

A spokesperson from the university told reporters from the Stanford Daily that the school was surprised and disheartened by the lawsuits. He also said university leaders understood the lawsuits and the fundraising efforts were separate and would not impact the administration's ongoing review of whether reinstating sports is possible.