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Dartmouth cuts five sports, permanently closes Hanover Country Club

  • Dartmouth graduate James Pleat waits for his party members to take their shots as he competes in the 115th New Hampshire Amateur Golf Tournament at the Hanover Country Club, on Monday, July 9, 2018. (Valley News - August Frank) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to valley news file photo — August Frank

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 7/10/2020 12:41:51 PM
Modified: 7/10/2020 1:30:57 PM

HANOVER — Citing ongoing budget challenges exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, Dartmouth College on Thursday cut five sports from its varsity roster and announced the permanent closing of Hanover Country Club.

In a letter to faculty, students, staff and undergraduate families, college President Phil Hanlon said the Ivy League school would eliminate the men’s lightweight crew, men’s and women’s golf, and men’s and women’s swimming and diving programs immediately, reducing the school’s varsity lineup to 30 teams. Dartmouth closed the 121-year-old golf course on Route 10 north of downtown Hanover in March as part of a campuswide response to the pandemic.

Hanlon said a 35-team varsity roster combined with having the smallest enrollment among the eight-member Ivies meant “athletic recruitment at Dartmouth has begun to impact our ability to achieve the right balance between applicants who are accomplished in athletics and applicants who excel in other pursuits.”

He asked athletic director Harry Sheehy to reduce the number of recruited athletes in each new class by 10%. Also charged with seeking a way to reduce department expenses, Sheehy led a study effort that ultimately recommended the sports cuts, which Hanlon and the Dartmouth Board of Trustees have approved.

“I understand the pain involved,” Sheehy said in a phone interview on Thursday evening. “This is real pain, not phony pain. There are real lives impacted. I certainly don’t put my head on the pillow easily tonight.”

Sheehy noted said he could have “taken 10, 11, 12 (percent) flat across the board,” but that had been done at least twice prior to his arrival in 2010. “We decided that we’re going to die by 1,000 cuts if we do that again. To run a vibrant Division I program, we felt at this point that the only way to do this was to go vertically.”

Which meant cutting teams.

“I’m devastated for the students,” men’s lightweight crew coach Dan Roock said. “The news was very sudden, but I can understand the reason behind the decision. ... It’s a shame this happened.”

The athletic department reductions are expected to save $2 million toward what Hanlon said is a potential $150 million collegewide deficit for the fiscal year ending next June 30. Fifteen staff members, including eight coaches, will lose their jobs as a result of Thursday’s moves, which will also affect about 110 student-athletes. The savings will be split evenly between the country club closure, the program reductions and ongoing administrative restructuring, and no further team cuts or layoffs are planned, Sheehy said.

“Today is like Groundhog Day, just 18 years later,” emailed diving coach Chris Hamilton, who was two years into a 21-year tenure when Dartmouth cut — and, under pressure, reinstated — men’s and women’s swimming and diving in 2002. “It’s harder the second time through.”

Sheehy delivered the news to coaches and athletes in a Zoom conference on Thursday afternoon. Rising sophomore men’s swimmer Noah Hensley didn’t see it coming.

“We may not compete well in the Ivy League, but you can see that anyone on the team could have gone to some other Power Five school if they wanted to,” Hensley said in a phone interview from his Cary, N.C., home. “We decided Dartmouth was the school for us. It’s incredibly maddening to see the school didn’t care about us the way we cared for it.”

While he couldn’t justify continued operation of Hanover Country Club, Hanlon said Dartmouth will not be selling the property. The college will maintain it for its cross country running teams, keep public access to the adjacent Pine Park available and “will explore how to safely open the land for community recreational use.”

“The property ... remains important to Dartmouth’s future,” he wrote.

Dartmouth’s announcement follows a similar effort by Ivy rival Brown University to cut 11 sports from its varsity lineup in late May, a move affecting seven coaches and around 150 competitors. The school later reinstated the men’s track and cross country programs; a group of athletes from remaining teams is planning a legal challenge.

Hensley knows the history of the Dartmouth swimming program: how the college tried to ax it during another period of financial uncertainty in 2002, and how alumni and friends of the team raised enough money to endow it for 10 years. Hensley said the college can expect a similar response this time, too.

“We’re not going to go down without fighting,” Hensley said. “This is not unheard of in the history of the Dartmouth swim team. In many ways, we’re blessed to have a very affluent donor base. We’re going to try to make that happen.”

Sheehy said he wouldn’t accept any efforts to save the affected programs because this is both about the budget and giving 10% of admissions support back to the college.

“To me, that’s what made this so imperative, to do what we did,” he said. “It’s not just budget. It’s simply much more complex than that.”

Hamilton, in his email, thanked the athletes and supporters of his program for the past 21 years.

“I am most upset about all our current athletes and incoming freshmen that made the commitment to Dartmouth and (were) just not given the full experience to be a part of a program that means so much to so many now-alumni who have been such a big influence on this program and college,” he wrote. “This place will always be a special part in my heart. I will always bleed green!”

Greg Fennell can be reached at or 603-727-3226.

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