Commentary: Stanford saga exhibits Olympic sports activities in peril

Sorrowful memories of Misty Hartung’s years of fighting will remain for Stanford athletes battling university leaders who have chosen to turn their backs on them.

First there was Hartung’s son, men’s volleyball player Kyler Presho, who shared news with her in July 2021 that the school was cutting its program, along with 10 other varsity sports, from practically nothing.

“I’ll never forget the look in my son’s eyes the day he was cut,” says Hartung.

Stanford did not give any notification to the coaches and players concerned. Other schools had announced cuts in previous months, using the pandemic as a cover for budget cuts that may have felt inevitable for some time. But this was Stanford, long emblematic of what the “student-athlete” experience should be, and now the $ 28 billion West Coast Ivy League peer said there wasn’t enough money to make Saving sports that routinely spawn US Olympians?

Hartung, who lives and works in sales in San Clemente, soon played the role of fraud investigator and joined the parents on the front line of each of the discarded programs. While putting together the vision and funding for a lawsuit against the school, she heard stories of Stanford’s administrative indifference directly from the puzzled athletes and soaked her heartache through a zoom screen.

“We know where our bread is buttered. We concentrate on top-selling sports and win in football and men’s basketball. ”

The new Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff

“They looked defeated and helpless,” says Hartung. “They weren’t sure what to do. They sent messages saying, ‘We’re still competing for a school that doesn’t want us.’ ”

On May 18, the same athletes shared their joy with Hartung when Stanford announced it would reverse course and resume all 11 programs, with the Cardinal maintaining “36 Strong,” the proud alumni label for all of the school’s sports programs.

Whatever the cause of the U-turn – Stanford certainly wouldn’t cite the impending lawsuit from attorney Jeffrey Kessler, one of the titans of sports and antitrust law, in its statement – Hartung was simply relieved by the efforts insulted from every corner of Stanford -Church had somehow prevailed in the end.

Even so, she has not been able to see for the past 10 months.

“I learned a lot about the dark side of university sports,” says Hartung. “When we talk about college sports we think a lot about the athletes and the teams, but from a university perspective, they don’t see it that way. These are not kids with dreams fulfilling their college athletic experience. These kids are just numbers on a spreadsheet and they run a business. The model of the sports department is broken. “

Within the relentless college sports news cycle that defined the 2020-21 pandemic school year – from return-to-game machinations to prominent coaches who signed COVID-19, to name, image, and likeness debates to athletes, who began to organize for their rights – it would be easy to forget the Stanford saga. Especially now that righteousness is restored at the eleventh hour. But if we care about the future of college sports, let’s not forget what this episode taught us about college education priorities and the reputation of the “student athlete”.

I ask why all year round.

I couldn’t accept that Stanford didn’t have the money to run these programs, especially after hearing that the cut sports were easily raising millions of dollars straight from the pockets of their successful and passionate alumni bases in the weeks following the announcement could. But the sporting director of Stanford, Bernard Muir, wouldn’t meet the teams or theorize possible solutions for sustainability?

I came across an interview that Dartmouth Sports Director at the time, Harry Sheehy, had with the student newspaper The Dartmouth last summer about the Ivy League school’s decision to cancel five sports. Sheehy said he was told by Dartmouth President Phil Hanlon prior to the pandemic that he was considering reducing the number of athletes on campus by 10 percent “based on admissions priorities.”

“Because of what President Hanlon wanted us to give back to the admissions process without the budget problem, we could sit here today and have done the same,” Sheehy admitted. “The budget problem only made it worse that it had to be done.”

Stanford made no such admission, but if it had, it would actually have made more sense than blaming the cost of running a squash program for it.

Stanford was ready to return 240 coveted undergraduate admission spots to the university’s general pool, voting future Nobel Prize winners or the children of foreign billionaires over highly motivated athletes, some of whom without their grades or test scores would not have had the grades or test scores to be admitted to become athletic prowess.

It is not surprising that the President of Stanford thinks in the same direction as Dartmouth. Many of America’s top universities have been humiliated by the Varsity Blues scandal, which used athlete admission slots to create a “side door” for undeserved non-athletes to enter elite schools. Stanford’s sailing program, which was part of the sport cuts, was implicated in the scandal.

Dartmouth said wanting fewer athletes on campus was one thing. Stanford, a Pac-12 school that embodied the ideals of the Olympic movement, was something else entirely.

“It’s very disappointing to me because I think the Stanford people are so diverse,” said Matt Fuerbringer, a Stanford men’s volleyball alumni who embarked on a professional career.

“One of the first parties I went to was another newbie who had climbed Mount Everest. One was the son of a diplomat who had barely lived in the United States. Then you meet a guy who was up at 4am doing a sport where there is no fame while he towers in the classroom. I’m sure you will find 240 people, but I don’t know if you have such diverse students. “

Hartung says some of the early pieces of evidence plaintiffs requested in their lawsuit against Stanford were documents related to the school’s admission priorities.

“I don’t think any university wants to announce its admission goals,” says Hartung. “That would be embarrassing for any university, especially with the PR nightmare [Stanford] went through. That was definitely not something they were ready to open up. “

Stanford pulled out because big donors threatened to get support – and because tens of millions had campaigned to preserve these 11 sports. It became easier to see a way into the future in which sport is self-financed with no income and no longer weighs on the more important pursuit of success in football and men’s basketball.

Monetizing these two sports is now all that matters to college graduates – another reality reinforced by Stanford’s actions.

George Kliavkoff, the new commissioner of the Pac-12, confirmed this in his introductory press conference.

“We know where our bread is buttered,” says Kliavkoff. “We focus on top-selling sports and winning in football and men’s basketball.”

Depending on who you are, this notion can be viewed as either inspirational or premonition. If you are a coach or athlete in a sport that is not making sales, this is at least completely revealing.

Members of 34 Stanford Sports have already learned it.

Wrestler Shane Griffith won a national championship that year while wearing an undershirt without the Stanford logo, a signature statement of what was lost. The women’s synchronized swimming team won the national title assuming it was the team’s final season. The men’s volleyball players I spoke to didn’t wear their Stanford gear this year unless they had to.

Misty Hartung’s son Presho, like all NCAA athletes who competed during the pandemic, has the option of an extra year. Although he can now use Stanford’s lapel in Palo Alto this year, he decided to play it for Hawaii.

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