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Dartmouth athletic director retires in wake of Title IX debacle

  • Harry Sheehy, center, Dartmouth College's new director of athletics and recreation, addresses the media on Aug. 3, 2010, at Floren Varsity House in Hanover, N.H. At left, is school president Jim Yong Kim and Sylvia Spears, acting dean of the college, is at right. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Peter Roby (Dartmouth College Athletics photograph)

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 2/9/2021 11:02:17 AM
Modified: 2/9/2021 9:37:54 PM

HANOVER — Dartmouth College on Tuesday said that Harry Sheehy will retire from his post as athletic director this month after more than a decade on the job. The news comes in the wake of the college’s announcement that it would reinstate five varsity teams to comply with Title IX and avoid a class-action gender discrimination lawsuit.

Sheehy, 68, accomplished much during his time in Hanover. He oversaw the upgrades and renovations to Memorial Field and the construction of the Indoor Practice Facility. And he founded the Dartmouth Athletics Advisory Board, which helped raise $29.5 million to endow 16 athletics positions, 14 of which are coaches.

Yet the decision to cut men’s lightweight crew, men’s and women’s golf, and the men’s and women’s swimming and diving programs last summer — a decision that was reversed Jan. 29 — caused months of discontent.

Now, 11 days after the reversal, Sheehy has stepped aside.

“Harry Sheehy’s retirement sends a clear message to all athletic directors around the country: You better make sure your schools are in compliance with Title IX,” said Arthur Bryant, the lawyer who represented the 19 student-athletes who brought the Title IX complaint to Dartmouth.

Sheehy did not respond to requests for an interview.

“I have been honored to serve Dartmouth athletics,” he said in a Dartmouth news release announcing his retirement, his first public statement since the five teams were reinstated. “(I) would like to thank our student-athletes and alumni, DAAB, Dartmouth’s senior leadership group, the department’s senior leadership team, and all those who have supported our mission — within our department, across campus, and beyond. Finally, I offer my heartfelt thanks to an extraordinary group of coaches, and I look forward to following their future success.”

July’s cuts were meant to reduce athletic department expenses and the number of recruited athletes, as well as contribute to a campus-wide budget reduction effort exacerbated by the COVID-19  pandemic.

Despite calls from alumni and student-athletes to reverse the decision, Sheehy and Dartmouth President Phil Hanlon said repeatedly they had no intention of going back on their decision.

But on Dec. 18, 2020, Bryant sent a letter to Hanlon on behalf of his clients arguing that the college was not in compliance with Title IX because the athletic department’s men-women ratio was not proportionally aligned to Dartmouth’s undergraduate population.

Six weeks later, Dartmouth announced it would reinstate all five teams it had previously cut. Hanlon apologized, writing: “This process has been, and continues to be, so painful to our current and former student-athletes and all who support them. ... We will make sure that any future decisions will be based on accurate data.”

Hours after the college made the decision public, Sheehy appeared on a Zoom call with athletic department administrators and student-athletes impacted by the cuts. Meant to formally reintroduce the athletes back into the Dartmouth family, the question-and-answer portion of the discussion included calls for Sheehy to apologize and resign.

The Big Green’s 2019-20 Equity in Athletics Data Analysis survey showed that Dartmouth would have needed to add 23 women athletes — the equivalent of two women’s golf teams or one women’s swim and dive program — to comply with Title IX with the cuts. The college will also pay Bryant’s firm $100,000 for legal fees as part of the settlement agreement.

Sheehy was named the Big Green’s eighth athletic director on Sept. 7, 2010, by then-Dartmouth President Jim Yong Kim.

Talking about winning from his first press conference, Sheehy hired more than 20 head coaches during his tenure, sometimes cleaning house while other times letting situations play out. With no competition in almost a year, there has not been a body of work to judge lately.

Football won its 19th Ivy League title in 2019, men’s soccer has made the NCAA tournament six times since 2010 and women’s rugby nearly won a National Intercollegiate Rugby Association in 2019. Yet the men’s and women’s basketball teams have been in the basement of the Ancient Eight. Women’s hockey hasn’t finished above .500 since 2012-13, and men’s lacrosse has a 29-game league losing streak.

During Sheehy’s time in Hanover, Dartmouth won 27 Ivy League titles and three national championships to go with 357 first team All-Ivy selections and 42 Ivy League players of the year. He established Dartmouth Peak Performance, which is geared toward helping student-athletes achieve their highest levels of physical, intellectual and personal growth.

Before coming to Dartmouth, Sheehy served as athletic director at his alma mater, Division III Williams College, for 10 years. Before that, he coached the Ephs men’s basketball team for 17 years and compiled the fourth-best win percentage (.757) in the history of D-III.

His wife, Connie, served as Dartmouth’s assistant director of alumni relations.

Dartmouth coaches were informed of the news in a Zoom call with Hanlon on Tuesday morning, and an email from Hanlon was also sent to former Big Green athletes. Current student-athletes were informed in a campus-wide message.

“I thank him for his dedication and wish him all the best in retirement,” Hanlon said of Sheehy in a statement.

He declined further comment.

“A lot of student-athletes I know lost trust in (Sheehy) after recent decisions, especially after the Zoom call,” said Stas Van Genderen, a senior on the Dartmouth swimming and diving team. “I think with a new interim athletic director coming in, and eventually a new athletic director, they will have to do some major changes to make sure the athletes and the coaches still trust that the administration has their future and continued success in mind.”

Peter Roby will take over the position of interim athletics director starting Feb. 16, and will serve through June 2022. A Dartmouth graduate and former basketball player with the Big Green, he coached men’s basketball at Harvard for nine years, including six seasons as head coach, and is a past athletic director at Northeastern University.

Although Sheehy has retired, Dartmouth still plans a review of July’s cuts. PricewaterhouseCoopers will assess the athletics program 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.

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

Pete Nakos can be reached at pnakos@vnews.com.




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