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Column: What did Dartmouth gain by cutting 5 teams?

Published: 10/26/2020 10:10:11 PM
Modified: 10/26/2020 10:10:08 PM

It took the administration all of 10 minutes over a Zoom call to wipe out the 100-year legacy of swimming and diving at Dartmouth College. Members of the administration didn’t feel the need to schedule any time to explain the decision, and have ignored repeated requests in the weeks since for transparency or accountability. That leaves it to us, the students directly impacted by the cuts, to attempt to piece together how the college’s leadership let things get to this point.

Despite citing pandemic-incurred budget problems as a reason to cut our teams, President Phil Hanlon wrote in July that it was not simply a financial issue, cryptically hinting that the decision had more to do with non-athletes than athletes. A swim team captain asked Director of Athletics Harry Sheehy what amount of money could be raised to save the program. He told us we should “not even bother” to fight for reinstatement because the “decision was final.” Major donors were later told that “no amount of money would resolve this problem.”

Meanwhile, peer institutions like Stanford and Brown gave student-athletes whose teams had been eliminated a full year’s notice to explore their options. Dartmouth, which has had a swimming and diving team on campus for more than a century, gave its athletes 23 minutes.

The reality is that the administration’s decision to eliminate five teams — men’s and women’s swimming and diving, men’s and women’s golf, and lightweight rowing — reduces pandemic related deficits by less than 1%.

We can say with confidence that the swimming and diving teams were not run extravagantly. The program received an endowment in 2013, and our assistants were the lowest-paid coaches in the Ivy League. The Karl Michael pool has costs, but it will be maintained as a Dartmouth facility whether or not there is a varsity team there to use it. And a significant portion of all team expenses were covered by Friends of Dartmouth Swimming and Diving, which the school was still trying to raise money for as recently as May 2020.

So how much money is Dartmouth actually saving by cutting swimming and diving? What happened to the money donated to Friends of Dartmouth Swimming and Diving? And how much will the decision to end the program ultimately cost in lost contributions from alumni and their families? There is no evidence that Dartmouth leadership has even considered these questions.

It was revealed that, more than six months ago, Sheehy was given a directive by Dartmouth leadership to reduce the number of recruited athletes by 10%, to allow for greater “admissions flexibility.” Instead of trimming spots across all sports, which for many teams would have meant a reduction of just one or two recruits, Sheehy made the decision to create a disparate impact by concentrating the cuts in the five eliminated programs.

But the numbers don’t add up. A 10% reduction from the recruiting class of 2023 would have meant 22 athletes. Does recouping 22 non-athletic admissions spots really justify the elimination of five entire varsity teams?

Based on admissions data available in the Dartmouth College Fact Book and the college’s announcements of upcoming class enrollment, some quick math reveals the standard deviation of class size from 2019-2023 was about 36. That means that, in the normal course of things, the number of enrolled students fluctuates each year by significantly more than the number of spots gained from the elimination of our five teams.

In other words, Dartmouth ended the very real dreams of 22 very real athletes for a statistically insignificant number of admissions spots to hypothetical “applicants who excel in other pursuits.” Pursuits, we can assume, that Dartmouth values more than the contributions of students who are swimmers, divers, golfers and rowers.

If the decision to cut our teams was made impartially and comprehensively, the administration should release all records of those deliberations. If it was made due to financial constraints, major donors to our program would not have been told that “no amount of money would resolve this problem.” If the issue was diversity or a well-rounded student body, cutting the swimming and diving team hurts both efforts.

What is evident is Harry Sheehy will continue to cut teams — unless we stop him.

Bella Lichen, Dartmouth Class of 2022, was a member of the women’s diving team. Alie Hunter, Class of ’21, Eleanor Zwart ’22, and Ashley Post ’22, were members of the women’s swimming team. Landon Armstrong ’23, was a member of the men’s swimming team.




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