With 'new optimism based on new circumstances,' Stanford reverses controversial decision to eliminate 11 varsity sports

Stanford has reversed a decision it made last summer and will not eliminate 11 varsity sports, the school announced Tuesday.

The decision comes after months of pressure from high-profile alumni, students and coaches, as well as a fundraising effort -- spearheaded by a group called 36 Sports Strong -- aimed at helping the sports become financially self-sustaining.

"We have new optimism based on new circumstances, including vigorous and broad-based philanthropic interest in Stanford Athletics on the part of our alumni, which have convinced us that raising the increased funds necessary to support all 36 of our varsity teams is an approach that can succeed," Stanford president Marc Tessier-Lavigne said in a statement.

Roughly 240 athletes who participate in 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 were set to be impacted by decision.

Leadership from 36 Sports Strong applauded university officials for working with the group to "find a better way forward" for the athletic department.

"We are grateful for their engagement, and we are looking forward to getting to work with them," the group said in a statement. "Champions persevere, and they find new ways to win. That's what Stanford has done here. Facing challenges, Stanford and its alumni have come together to build a solution that will cement its status as the best Athletics Department in the country."

In the original announcement in July, university leaders said that it was not sustainable to continue to support 36 athletic programs and that the programs would be disbanded after the 2020-21 academic year. The school called the decision a "last resort" and said it "comes down primarily to finances and competitive excellence."

Those claims were largely debunked by 36 Sports Strong, which determined the cuts would save Stanford roughly $4.5 million a year, which equates to about 3% of the athletic department's budget. The 11 sports already had a combined $23 million endowment and, as of early last month, had received about $50 million in pledges to support the sports in the future.

According to a Stanford spokesman, the savings estimate from 36 Sports Strong did not account for centralized athletic department costs, including sports medicine, and said the actual savings for cutting the 11 sports would have been roughly $8 million annually.

In an open letter to the Stanford community, Tessier-Lavigne, provost Persis Drell and athletics director Bernard Muir said the department still faces significant financial challenges.

"But we have new optimism based on new circumstances, including significantly improved fundraising potential in support of our athletics programs and improvement in the financial investment markets," the letter said.

Alumni from the 11 programs have combined to earn 27 Olympic medals, and the programs have combined for more than 20 national titles. Stanford wrestler Shane Griffith won a national title in March, wearing a black singlet without any identifying marks.

Leaders from the 36 Sports Strong group had been optimistic a reversal was coming after meeting with university leadership via videoconference in early April and positive subsequent exchanges in the weeks since.

Stanford athletes filed a pair of lawsuits last week with the intent of forcing the school to reverse the decision; however, the school said it had made the decision to restore the sports before those filings.