GW will remove seven programs at the conclusion of the 2020-21 season due to “growing financial concerns” brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a release Friday.
Men’s rowing, sailing, men’s and women’s squash, men’s indoor track, men’s tennis and women’s water polo will be eliminated, affecting about 118 student-athletes. The move comes as the department’s gap between revenues and expenses near “at least $200 million” this fiscal year, according to the release.
“By supporting fewer programs, we will be better equipped to provide a world-class student-athlete experience, and our student-athletes will have greater access to important resources, such as strength and conditioning, sports medicine and academic assistance,” officials said in the release, which was undersigned by Athletic Director Tanya Vogel, University President Thomas LeBlanc, Provost Brian Blake and Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Mark Diaz.
The cuts come after a “comprehensive review” of each program that began prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to an FAQ page. Officials considered nine criteria – like gender equity and Title IX compliance, NCAA Division I sponsorship, history of the sport at GW and expense savings – in the review, according to an information page.
The FAQ page added that an increase in “ticket sales, philanthropic support and corporate sponsorship” was also considered, but fans attending games is not a guarantee, and the financial implications of the pandemic have also impacted the number of donors and sponsors.
Non-NCAA sports – including men’s and women’s squash, men’s rowing and sailing – can continue to compete as club teams provided there is “suitable student interest” and financial support, the release states. Men’s tennis and women’s water polo could transition to club teams if there is interest, and men’s indoor track runners can still compete on the cross country and outdoor track and field squads, the release states.
The document added that athletic scholarships for affected student-athletes will be honored through their graduation. Should a student-athlete seek to transfer and continue their sport at another institution, the athletic department will support them, the release states.
Mental health and counseling services will also be available throughout the year for affected student-athletes, the release states.
All existing contracts with coaches will be honored, and if they seek employment outside of GW, the University will support them and “show appropriate care,” the FAQ page states. Six head coaches, four assistant coaches and one graduate assistant coach will be affected by the downsizing.
The document states that financial savings will gradually phase in as student-athletes “come off scholarship in the next several years” and as costs in travel, compensation and operation are reduced. The document added that the athletic department was underfunded, and the reduction in programs will prevent facilities and personnel from being spread thin.
“Additional action” may be taken if the pandemic worsens the University’s financial situation. Vogel, the athletic director, is also taking a pay cut alongside several other administrators and deans.
“We believe this path will secure a more sustainable financial future that will allow GW Athletics to better fulfill its mission,” the release said. “We also are mindful that while we do not expect to take additional action at this time, it could be necessary if the COVID-19 pandemic and the financial impact worsen.”
The Atlantic 10 canceled the remainder of spring sports’ season earlier this year and most recently postponed fall sports until the spring. Programs outside of the conference, like men’s rowing, sailing and men’s water polo, will also not compete in the fall.
Men’s rowing has competed for more than 60 seasons at GW, but the squad has not hit the water since 2019, opting to skip its 2019 fall schedule to save funds for the canceled Henley Royal Regatta. In its last competition, the squad recorded its best finish in program history – 13th-place – at the Intercollegiate Rowing Association National Championship. The Colonials tabbed head coach Eric Gehrke in January after Mark Davis resigned in December.
Sailing, which is approaching its ninth year at the varsity level, nabbed its highest finish in program history at the Intercollegiate Sailing Association Sperry Women’s National Championship in 2019, finishing fourth overall. A rocky fall slate in 2020 left the young squad working through growing pains before its season was cut short.
Men’s squash became a varsity program 18 years ago and saw national success in recent years, winning back-to-back Hoehn Cups in 2018 and 2019, respectively. The Colonials charged into the 2019-20 season, tying its highest ranking in program history at No. 9, but dropped down to No. 15 at the conclusion of the season.
Women’s squash, which also became a varsity program 18 years ago, finished the past season ranked No. 14, an improvement from its No. 15 finish a year ago. Senior Zoe Foo Yuk Han became the first player on both the men’s or women’s sides to be named a First-Team All-American.
Men’s indoor track joined the varsity level for the 2014-15 season and shares its roster with men’s cross country and outdoor track and field. Last season, the squad set four program records in the 60-meter dash, 5,000-meter run, long jump and high jump. The team, which did not have a large enough roster to fill all the events at the A-10 Championship, used the competition for personal growth.
Men’s tennis held a long history in Foggy Bottom, competing at the varsity level for more than 50 years. The team boasted five A-10 Championships in six years but fell short of the crown in the last three seasons of play. The squad’s lineup last season relied heavily on a core of sophomores in head coach Rob Castille’s first full fall season with the team.
Women’s water polo became a varsity program in 2000 but hasn’t had a winning record in more than 16 years. With its smallest roster in more than a decade, the team ended its season prematurely after 12 games due to the pandemic. Utility player Alana Ponce, who graduated in 2020, became the first Colonial to earn All-America honors from the Association of Collegiate Water Polo Coaches.