Dartmouth reverses course, will reinstate five varsity sports programs cut in July

  • Dartmouth College swimmers Megan Crook, right, Madeleine Dunn, middle, and Kendece Nangle, left, swim laps during a workout in Hanover, N.H., in February 2016 in preparation for a meet at Columbia. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. valey news file photo — James M. Patterson

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 1/29/2021 12:37:04 PM
Modified: 1/29/2021 9:51:00 PM

HANOVER — On July 9, Dartmouth College athletic director Harry Sheehy gathered student-athletes and coaches from five varsity programs on a Zoom call to deliver the news that their time with the Big Green was coming to an end.

The news was shocking. One of the oldest Ivy League institutions had eliminated 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.

A little less than seven months later, Sheehy was on another Zoom call on Friday morning, this time informing the Big Green athletic department that Dartmouth was reinstating the five teams, reversing the cuts to comply with Title IX and avoid a possible class-action sex discrimination lawsuit. Title IX is a federal law the requires gender equity in college athletics.

Hours later, Dartmouth President Phil Hanlon announced to the school community the 180-degree decision in a letter.

“To determine which teams would be eliminated, director of athletics Harry Sheehy and his team established a series of factors and considerations to be used in their assessment,” Hanlon wrote. “We have recently learned that elements of the data that athletics used to confirm continued Title IX compliance may not have been complete. In light of this discovery, Dartmouth will immediately reinstate all five teams.”

The five programs were initially eliminated to reduce athletic department expenses and the number of recruited athletes as well as contribute to a campuswide budget reduction effort exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

At the time, Hanlon assured the Dartmouth community that “the change in the number of teams does not alter Dartmouth’s compliance with federal Title IX regulations.”

Friday’s announcement comes less than two months after Arthur Bryant, a California-based lawyer who was hired to look into possible Title IX violations by members of the teams, penned a letter to Hanlon asserting that the college was in breach of Title IX and that Hanlon should reinstate the two women’s programs immediately.

Title IX, enacted by Congress in 1972, prohibits federally funded educational institutions from discriminating against students or employees based on sex. Before Title IX came into law, the NCAA offered no athletic scholarships for women and held no championships for women’s teams.

All Title IX cases are based on the issue of access, and a three-part test identifies what is being violated. Since the second and third parts cannot be met eliminating an active women’s team, it comes down to the first part, which states that opportunities for women and men must be proportionate to the school’s respective rate of enrollment.

“They screwed up royally,” Bryant said in a Friday phone call.

Dartmouth will reimburse his firm over $100,000 in legal fees as part of the settlement agreement.

“This is simple math,” Bryant said. “How Dartmouth could screw up the numbers and think it was in compliance with Title IX when it wasn’t is beyond me.”

For the athletes and coaches who found out Friday that their teams were reinstated, the news followed months of fighting July’s decision. An online petition on change.org to save Dartmouth swimming and diving has received more than 32,000 signatures, and a letter signed by 20 Big Green teams was sent to Hanlon asking for the five programs to be brought back. Alumni from all five programs also put pressure on the college.

Plenty of questions are still not answered. When Sheehy and Hanlon cut the programs, eight coaches also lost their jobs. A list of frequently asked questions on dartmouthsports.com published on Friday states those coaches will have the right of first refusal to return.

But some of those affected coaches have moved on. Women’s golf coach and Hanover Country Club head professional Alex Kirk is now the pro at Glades Country Club in Naples, Fla. Men’s golf coach Rich Parker recently agreed to start a golf school at the Northwood School, a grades 9-12 boarding school in Lake Placid, N.Y.

While happy for his Big Green golfers, Parker on Friday said hearing the reinstatement news left him feeling the same way he did when he was told he was out of a job.

“My phone is ringing off the hook — all of my former players, all of my friends — so emotionally it’s really tough,” Parker said. “When you don’t do anything wrong and you lose your job and your life gets turned upside-down ... you’re almost 65 years old, what do you do? Where do you go? It’s been hard with our family; I have two kids in college. It’s been emotional today.”

The FAQ guarantees only that the five sports will be reinstated through the 2024-25 season. How that might affect recruiting is unknown. A lack of recruiting activity for a cycle will also put the teams behind their Ivy League competitors.

A significant talking point of July’s decision was the money to be saved. At the time, Sheehy said it would allow Dartmouth “to run a vibrant Division I program.” On Friday, the school outlined in the FAQ that the overall level of support for the teams may be reduced consistent with reductions in the overall level of support for the Big Green’s other teams and varsity athletics program.

Some of the athletes impacted opted to transfer away from Dartmouth, while others have picked up other sports on campus. A time frame for a return to play isn’t clear because the Ancient Eight is pausing competition due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Hanover Country Club will remain closed. The men’s and women’s golf programs will have to rely on other local courses.

“Yes, I am very happy that this has happened, but as an alum I still have very serious concerns about how this all happened in the first place,” said Robert Goldbloom, a former Big Green swimmer who played a role in the Save Dartmouth Swim and Dive movement.

Dartmouth will now hire Holland & Knight, a law firm specializing in Title IX compliance, to conduct a gender equity review of varsity athletics at the school. The Ivy League will begin an NCAA compliance review of the Big Green’s athletic department, too.

Hanlon was scheduled to meet with the student-athletes on Friday evening to discuss details of reinstatement and the transition back into each program. Sheehy was not made available to the media and had not released a statement as of Friday afternoon.

As far as the college’s next steps, PricewaterhouseCoopers will assess Dartmouth athletics through a process-and-control review, which will determine if it’s functioning as intended and if it’s able to manage the risks in day-to-day operations. Turnover in the Big Green athletic department’s compliance office over the last two years will be closely examined.

Hanlon acknowledged the hundreds of lives that were impacted by the tumult.

“We sincerely apologize that this process has been, and continues to be, so painful to our current and former student-athletes and all who support them,” Hanlon wrote. “Through the actions above, we will make sure that any future decisions will be based on accurate data. Our sincere hope is that these reviews and team reinstatements will create an opportunity for us to come together as a community as we navigate the challenging times ahead.”

Valley News sports editor Greg Fennell contributed to this report. Pete Nakos can be reached at pnakos@vnews.com.

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