Frequently Asked Questions for Athletics Review
1. How does this set of recommendations from the Athletics Review Committee position Brown Athletics for the future?
The goal of these recommendations, when implemented as a package, is to achieve a well-supported varsity sport program at Brown that matches the investment in excellence that we make in all of the educational opportunities we offer.
Stemming from the Corporation’s charge to the administration, the Athletics Review Committee’s recommendations seek to affirm the importance of athletics at Brown and to direct substantial additional funding and other support to athletics to enhance students’ experience and the competitiveness of teams. The Committee recommends investments that will help the University compensate appropriately, retain and recruit the highest quality coaches, improve facilities, and enhance financial aid and the overall quality of experience. The recommendations also call for reducing the number of varsity teams and admission slots. While these are difficult recommendations, it is essential for Brown to have a varsity program that can be sustained at a level of competitive excellence. The recommendations, if adopted, also ensure that Brown will have a varsity sport program that underscores the value of equitable participation for men and women at Brown. Finally, the recommendations call for enhancing the academic experience for our student athletes by improving access to academic opportunities.
2. What is the status of these recommendations and how do I convey my opinion about these proposals?
Working from the statement given to the Athletics Review Committee by the Brown University Corporation in February, this Committee was charged with preparing a preliminary plan for Brown Athletics to be presented to President Simmons and to the Brown Corporation at its May meeting.
Between now and May 16, the Athletics Review Committee is soliciting feedback from the Brown community. Meetings have been scheduled with many of the groups most closely affiliated to Brown Athletics. The coaches and students of the varsity programs that are under consideration for elimination have been offered a time to meet with the Committee to express their concerns and/or to ask questions (see also 8, below). All input from community members will be considered as we finalize the recommendations for presentation to President Simmons.
3. What were the conditions that led Brown to the decision to reduce the scope of its varsity program?
Brown University has been supporting the third largest varsity program in the Ivy League with 37 sports. Compared to our Ivy peers, we have the smallest budget and yet we have been running one of the largest programs.
This mismatch between program and budget became even more apparent through the Organizational Review Process in 2009-2010 when the financial crisis led Brown to examine all of its departments and programs, and identify savings that could be realized to balance the budget in response to the drop in the university's endowment. At that time, departments across the University were given savings targets to reach through cuts or income generation. The target for savings in Athletics was $1M. The Athletics Organizational Review Committee examined the Athletics Department budget and reported that the department was so underfunded and understaffed that it could not identify $1M in savings. The Committee recommended, however, that over a longer timeframe, a study be undertaken to determine whether Brown had the right scope of varsity program given its financial constraints.
Subsequently, two other Committees have examined this question about the appropriate size program for Brown's varsity sports given our institutional priorities and budget limitations. The Ad Hoc Committee, chaired by the Director of Athletics, presented a number of options ranging from increased fundraising to dropping teams, and another committee chaired by the Provost examined Brown Athletics in the context of the University's academic priorities. The careful work and conclusions reached by all three of those processes have informed the decisions of this Athletics Review Committee. While these previous committees did not have the broad charge to develop a comprehensive plan for Brown Athletics that determines the right program for our University, they shared the conclusion that, because the needs are so great across staffing, facilities, and operating expenses, it would take a number of careful measures, possibly including a reduction in the number of varsity programs, to bring the department into a condition of sustainable competitiveness, even if additional funding could be identified.
As this Athletics Review Committee began its work, we looked at what is required to support a varsity sports program that provides a high quality experience for student athletes. Our recommendations outline the investment we recommend for Brown to accomplish the goal of supporting a varsity program that fits with our institutional priorities and commitment to excellence. We advocate taking all of the steps to get there but believe we are currently stretching our facilities, staffing, and budget too thin. Even with the recommendation that additional funds be allocated, the resources would not be adequate to fund a program of our current size. While the decision to reduce the number of varsity programs Brown supports is painful, we believe it is the only way to attain our goals for intercollegiate athletics at Brown. These goals have to include appropriate staffing and compensation levels, safe conditions for competition, facilities that support League contests, the ability to recruit and retain the finest student athletes, and a strong competitive and academic experience for our students. Given our present constraints, we cannot reach these goals while maintaining the current size of the program.
Athletics does not stand alone, but rather is an integral part of our University. Accordingly, the athletics budget should be bench-marked in the same way as our academic programs in relation to our Ivy peers. We make strategic investments for improvement but we do not have the biggest budget in the Ivy League in any area, academic or athletic.
Our recommendation to drop four varsity programs and to possibly add at least one additional women's sport would put our program in the middle of the Ivy League in terms of size. At 34 sports, Brown would have the same size program as Dartmouth, one less team than Yale, one more than Penn, and three more than Columbia. The committee thought this was a more reasonable place for Brown to be given that we have the smallest budget for our Athletics Department by a sizable margin. The proposed plan enables the University to address this deficit in some measure. As part of the proposed comprehensive plan, we are recommending increased funding for staffing and compensation, for the operating budget, for facilities, and for institutional financial aid. These investments are significant and the aim is to create a well-supported program that is positioned to be competitive and to provide a quality experience for our students. If we do not also reduce the number of sports, the investment will not have the intended effect because facilities and staff will remain overburdened , for both varsity athletes and our many recreational users. The goal of this plan is to strengthen Brown's Department of Athletics for the long term, and — as with Brown’s academic programs, facilities needs, student support, and other critical areas — that means making some difficult decisions in order to move ahead with strengthened programs.
4. What were the analytical and decision-making processes that led to the committee’s recommendations?
The Athletics Review Committee benefitted from data that had been gathered and analyzed in previous reviews. This Committee was particularly concerned with the whole system of support for varsity sports (coaches, trainers, staff, locker-rooms, fields for practice and competition, equipment, travel and recruiting budgets). We also paid careful attention to the competitive pressures on achieving athletic excellence while also adhering to Ivy League principles.
Given the range of needs that should be addressed to improve our program, we determined a package of recommendations that begins to align our program with a budget we can support through a reasonable increase of funding. This means additional investments while also making some reductions. To ensure that the experience is improved for varsity athletes and recreational users following this investment requires also taking steps so all facility and staff resources are not overburdened by spreading the investment too thin. The goals are to target new resources strategically to make a real difference and to have identified funding increases that will provide appropriate compensation for athletics staff (a long-standing concern), improve facilities, and bring the operating budget to competitive levels with our peers. To make these decisions, the Committee was guided using peer data, the Equity in Athletics Disclosure Act Data on athletics spending specifically, and market data on compensation. We are also working in collaboration with appropriate offices to make informed decisions about facilities, salaries, and the experience of our students, including Facilities Management, Human Resources, and the Dean of the College. We reviewed data provided by the Offices of Financial Aid and Admissions to evaluate admissions standards and financial aid awards at Brown and among our peers.
The decision about recommending some varsity programs for elimination was determined by using the following criteria:
Community: Is a given sport demonstrably important to Brown’s sense of community in terms of the active and broad-based interest — most notably manifested by broad interest in attending athletic events — of current students, alumni, faculty, and staff? Put another way, would our sense of community be diminished in a substantial way if a given sport were to be discontinued?
History: Does this sport have a strong symbolic or historical role in Ivy or other competition? This relates to the previous question about the role of particular sports in Brown’s sense of community, but is more focused on whether there can be said to be a particularly robust “tradition” associated with a given sport in terms of collegiate life and intercollegiate standard-bearing.
Size of Admissions Cohort: How large is the number of special admissions slots for recruited athletes for the team? As we continue to attract growing numbers of the very best young minds, every place in our entering classes becomes all the more precious.
Academic Experience: Are the activities required for this sport compatible with students’ academic experience? Do they in fact interfere with the academic experience? Here it is necessary to ask whether the demands of participating in a sport — such as the travel required for practice or the seasonal playing schedule — structurally limit student athletes’ ability to take full advantage of Brown’s curricular offerings or interfere with the College’s academic goals.
Competitiveness: Does this sport provide adequate opportunities for achieving excellence at the Ivy or national level? Consistent with the University’s general emphasis on sustaining areas of strength, it is important to recognize team performance, especially as it relates to community and quality of student experience.
Facilities: How adequate are Brown’s facilities for this sport? As with other forms of support (budget and staffing), the availability and quality of sports facilities have a direct impact on the quality of student athletes’ experience at Brown as well as teams’ ability to compete effectively. In addition, like financial resources, space can also be re-deployed so that facilities inadequate for the team currently using them could substantially enhance the quality of experience and the competitiveness of another team.
Cost: How great are the university resources required to sustain this sport? The ORC committee’s recommendation to reduce teams, endorsed by the ad hoc committee, resulted from the University’s need to identify savings. In addition to annual appropriations from the University, however, most of Brown’s sports also benefit from generous annual fundraising and income from endowments. But just as cost should not be the sole consideration for discontinuing teams, these sources of non-university support cannot serve as the only justification for maintaining them. (It should also be noted that the NCAA provides $28,500 for every team in a sport recognized by the Association beyond a floor of 13 teams. Thus, the loss of these funds for each discontinued team must also be taken into account.)
No single team rates uniformly high or low in response to these questions. In addition, some issues or factors deserve greater emphasis than others. We sought to recognize where there are especially strong positive attributes, such as community-building and tradition, and where there are especially problematic “red flags,” such as compatibility with Brown’s academic mission. We also took into account one consideration that transcends individual team ratings: this has to do with the obligations of colleges and universities relating to gender equity and proportionality under Title IX. In contemplating the reduction of teams, we were required to pay careful attention to sustaining an equitable balance in athletic opportunities for men and women. But our approach to recommending a reduction in varsity teams, while informed by both quantitative and qualitative evaluation, has not been a mechanical exercise. Ultimately, we have sought to maintain a view of the larger picture and to arrive at a course of action that we think is in the best interests of the University as a whole.
Using these criteria, the major reasons for recommending that we drop our programs in skiing, fencing, and wrestling follow:
Skiing Program (women):
- Brown can offer no facilities to support skiing. Given that practice and competition takes place in New Hampshire and Western Massachusetts, we are concerned about the safety of our student athletes travelling these distances so regularly and about the impact the extensive travel has on their academic opportunities.
- There are only a small number of varsity skiing programs nationally.
Skiing Club (men):
- For these same reasons, we are recommending that the men’s club ski team also be discontinued.
Fencing Program (men and women):
- To bring the fencing program to the necessary level for a high-quality competitive experience would require a large investment in infrastructure and staffing. The program currently lacks locker rooms, practice and competition space, and would need two additional coaches.
- There are only a small number of varsity Fencing programs nationally.
- A high number of admission slots are required to be competitive in this sport.
- It is one of the more expensive programs to support.
- It is not offered by all Ivy League schools.
- The numbers associated with this team contribute significantly to the imbalance in opportunities for women and men.
5. How did Title IX affect the decision and how will Brown remain in compliance after the changes are enacted?
Brown University currently complies with a consent decree whereby our participation among women and men on varsity teams must remain within a 3.5% variance of the percentage of women and men in our overall student population.
We believe in the value of equitable participation in athletics and intend to comply with the consent decree and Title IX. As we are recommending dropping several varsity programs and adding at least one women’s team, we have calculated the percentage of women and men who would participate as varsity athletes in the new mix of teams and will achieve proportionality with the percentage of women and men undergraduates at Brown. Given the large numbers of participants in several men’s sports, it has been extremely difficult for Brown to mirror in the Athletics program the ratio of our enrollment. With the recommended changes in the varsity sports offerings, approximately 52% of varsity athletes will be women and 48% will be men. We hope this commitment to proportionality in varsity offerings will be a model for other colleges and universities.
6. Why are we recommending the addition of at least one women’s team to varsity status at the same time that we are proposing a reduction in current varsity programs?
We have detailed the reasons above that some current programs are recommended for elimination given the strains on financial, facility, and staff resources. If the recommendation to drop these sports is accepted and implemented, the University would comply with the consent decree for equitable participation. Going forward, we want to provide a greater number of participation opportunities for women consistent with the framework established through the review. Therefore the teams considered for these opportunities would be subject to the same considerations we used in reaching the initial decision. We have identified some possible club sports that could become sustainable varsity programs and that would provide greater opportunities but not involve the same strain on resources or the logistical complications of the sports we are recommending for elimination.
7. Can teams be reinstated?
It is the recommendation of this Committee that teams not be reinstated through fundraising because the strain on every resource in Athletics, including facilities, is currently so great that we will not have a strengthened program if we continue to try to do more than we can support.
8. Why is the Athletics Review Committee recommending a reduction in admission slots for recruited athletes beyond the programs that might be dropped?
When we are offering admission to only 9% of more than 30,000 applicants each year, every admission spot becomes all the more pressured. Currently, 225-230 of the slots in our first year class of 1,485 are allotted to recruited varsity athletes. We must always remain attentive to ensuring that our admitted student body reflects all the dimensions that we hold as important: diversity of background, diversity of intellectual and artistic strengths, and diversity of perspectives.
From its founding, the Ivy League has intended that members of teams “shall be truly representative of the student body and not composed of a group of specially recruited athletes” and that competitive equity should be the norm, rather than the exception. In an effort to help ensure and enforce the principles of “representativeness” and “competitive equity” in athletics, the League has, over the past 50 years, created a series of complex regulations and statistical boundaries around the admission of athletes. The Ivy League sets limits on the maximum number of athletes each school can matriculate over a four-year period based on the number of teams it supports. Brown is currently closer to its maximum limit than most other peers.
Certainly, our athletes as a group have performed well on academic measures. However, currently we admit less than ten percent of an extraordinarily talented pool, while reserving over two hundred admission spaces for students identified by our coaches. Admission spots are a highly-prized commodity at this time, and we had to consider the pressure to make more spots available to the whole range of applicants.
Accordingly, we are recommending that, in addition to spots yielded from eliminated teams, some teams shift to fully “walk-on” participation. In doing so, we also endorse the value of athletics participation beyond solely the recruited varsity athletes.
9. What is Brown doing to support the teams recommended for elimination?
We recognize that, should the recommendations be accepted, dropping varsity sports will seriously affect a number of recruited students, current students, coaches, and alumni. We are taking every step to assist where we can by working with the Athletics Department, the Admissions Office, and the Dean of the College to assist our students and the Human Resources office to assist our coaches. Current students will be offered significant opportunities to work individually with Brown deans and athletics administrators to review their options and choices going forward. Our Dean for Admission is prepared to work individually with admitted students and their families. With the assistance of the Athletics Advisory Council and the Brown University Sports Foundation, we will be communicating with our alumni and parent groups.