Why aren’t faculty involved in the decision to drop sports? It’s a question I’ve pondered over the years. Faculty have increasingly been excluded, or lost interest in what’s happening in the athletics department. But since its 2020 and disruption is in the air, maybe it’s time?

Can the faculty save Olympic Sports?

The College of William and Mary calls itself “the alma mater” of the nation. An NCAA Division I program, it was founded in 1693, it takes great pride in being the only College who canceled classes because ‘the British invaded’. It counts as graduates future Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and James Monroe. Over the last decade, it has begun the difficult work of racial reconciliation with the eras of slavery and Jim Crow. And, W&M also proudly claims creation of the first student honor code. According to the student newspaper, “The centuries-long tradition dates back to 1736, and has stayed relevant year after year with every new pupil reciting the honor code in the Sir Christopher Wren Building during their first week on campus.”

This is a campus that is not afraid of the difficult conversation.

Anger began in September when the athletics department announced their decision to drop seven sports. But it boiled over when students found out about a violation by the athletics director of the honor code. In the press release announcing the decision, language was lifted from the Stanford press release informing the community they were dropping 11 sports. The athletics director appeared to have plagiarized sentences from the Stanford release.

While no faculty member worth their salt would tolerate plagiarism in their courses, it’s a much bigger deal for W&M. In fact, the honor code states that violations “undermine the community of trust, of which we are all stewards.” Thus, the honor code “extends well beyond just the student body and applies to all members of the College community.”

The announcement to drop sports came from College President Katherine Rowe, College Provost Peggy Agouris and Athletic Director Samantha Huge. It took a couple of days for folks to notice the language on the press release was lifted, but the outcry was enough to cost Director Huge her job.

Then, some members of the college faculty jumped into the fray with a proposal of their own.

While all await the investigation of this episode by the Honor Council (yes, there is one!), the faculty decided to go one step further and examine the origination of the entire decision, not just the press release.

Next week, the Faculty Senate will debate a series of resolutions to weigh in on the removal of the sports programs. The motions were drafted by Suzanne C. Hagedorn, an associate professor of English, Business professor Katherine Guthrie and Law professor Tom McSweeney, and other faculty members. The three resolutions are:

  • “to appoint a new Athletics Task Force in consultation with Faculty Assembly with significant representation of W&M faculty, staff, students, and the local community to create a new strategic plan for W&M Athletics”;
  • the immediate reinstatement of the seven sports “pending further review and consideration by the new Athletics Task Force”;
  • the commissioning of an external financial audit and independent Title IX compliance analysis reporting to the Athletics Task Force.

The department is facing a series of deficits over the next few years totaling $12 million, compounded by a reduction in the individual gifts from outside sources. The faculty are asking for all seven sports to be reinstated, and then to include all 23 varsity sports to find the cost savings needed.

Many college athletics programs are in this predicament-declining revenues, increasing Covid-19 expenses and athletes and coaches wondering what the future holds.

What can William and Mary’s faculty bring to this process?

They can bring three things—financial acumen, legal analysis, and a sense of the culture on campus. When permanent decisions are made to remove student’s co-curricular experiences, the decision should include a wider range of stakeholders, not just a few senior leaders in the athletic department. It’s easy to look at difficult decisions from the perspective of solving your problem, but does your dilemma create other problems? Involving faculty may lead to the same outcome, but perhaps the process will strengthen the relationships of those left behind.

It will be interesting to see the push-pull on campus. An institution with the history, the Honor Code, and a powerful group of internal stakeholders will create pressure on the President, the Trustees and the alumni to act. Secondary to finding additional funding sources, the best outcome in this drama could be the re-engagement of faculty in the life of intercollegiate athletics.



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