The captain of the men’s rowing team filed a lawsuit against GW in the D.C. Superior Court Friday, calling on a judge to require the University to reinstate the team as a varsity sport.
In a 20-page complaint, Patrick George – a fourth-year student who has been a member of the rowing team since 2018 – alleged GW defrauded him, breached its contract and engaged in deceptive trade practices in failing to renew his athletic scholarship for the upcoming academic year. The lawsuit calls for an immediate emergency restraining order requiring GW to reinstate men’s rowing as a varsity sport and provide compensation for damages if George’s athletic scholarship is not renewed and for attorney fees.
“Mr. George’s final attempts to resuscitate the Men’s Rowing Team have fallen on GW’s deaf ears,” the lawsuit states. “Mr. George now brings this suit to compel GW to return the Men’s Rowing Team to varsity status and fulfill its promises and other legal obligations to him.”
The men’s varsity rowing team was one of seven varsity teams terminated in August 2020 due to “growing financial concerns” officials say were caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The termination went into effect following the conclusion of the 2020-21 season. After the announcement, program alumni offered to fund the program to protect its varsity status, but the University declined the alumni’s offer without providing a statement.
“Despite securing sufficient funding to cover the entire budget for the men’s rowing program, GW declined to reinstate the program to varsity status,” the lawsuit states.
University spokesperson Crystal Nosal did not return a request for comment. George and his attorney, Anand Ramana, each did not return requests for comment.
The lawsuit states officials have failed to confirm that they will continue providing George a $70,000 scholarship for next academic year, which the lawsuit claims he was promised. The complaint states that the University’s lack of response to George’s questions about the status of his scholarship constitutes a “silent reneging” that breaches GW’s contract with George.
The lawsuit alleges GW defrauded George when then-Head Coach Mark Davis told him in 2018 that the sport’s varsity status would be maintained throughout George’s career at GW and George could earn athletic scholarships as an upperclassman. George’s attorneys asked the court to force GW to provide documents pertaining to the reasons behind the termination of the team’s varsity status, according to a motion filed in conjunction with the lawsuit.
“GW intentionally and knowingly withheld from Mr. George during his recruiting, and again in May 2020, the fact that it was considering cutting the men’s rowing team as a varsity sport prior to the conclusion of his collegiate athletic eligibility years,” the lawsuit states. “The fact that GW would maintain a varsity Men’s Rowing Team throughout his athletic career was a material fact upon which Mr. George based his decision to attend GW.”
The lawsuit states the cost of reinstating the rowing team as a varsity sport would cost the University less than $200,000 plus the additional costs of renewing scholarships for athletes. In an additional motion filed Friday, George asked the court to require GW to turn over documents regarding the rowing team’s varsity cancellation and the Athletics Department’s balance sheets from the past five years.
The complaint states the lawsuit is a “last ditch attempt” to preserve the varsity status of the team. When George and his teammates told Athletic Director Tanya Vogel that they were considering legal action to maintain the team’s varsity status last year – before the conclusion of the team’s final varsity season – she told George that any such effort could result in the immediate cancellation of the team’s varsity status before the 2021 season’s end, according to the lawsuit.
During its final season, the team concluded the Intercollegiate Rowing Association championships ranked seventh in the nation, the best finish in program history, according to the lawsuit. The lawsuit states Vogel told the team that “the best way” to encourage the Board of Trustees to revisit its decision would be through “showcasing” its performance, but the team’s seventh-place national ranking did not lead officials to reverse its decision to change the team’s status.
“If this Court issues an order restoring the Men’s Rowing Team to varsity status effective immediately, Mr. George and the Men’s Rowing Team will be able to compete as a varsity team nationally, and the IRA will invite GW to compete in the national championships in June 2022,” the lawsuit states. “If this Court does not issue an order, Mr. George will not be able to participate in varsity sports for his senior season nor compete for a national championship in his senior season – a loss he can never recover.”
Officials said in 2020 that the varsity sports which were cut, including men’s rowing, would have the ability to compete in the “same or similar” conferences after their transition to club sports, according to an FAQ on the athletics department’s website. But the rowing team lost its eligibility to compete at any event sanctioned by the IRA, the governing body of collegiate rowing, according to the lawsuit.
The IRA runs the National Championship Regatta, comparable to a national championship event. The IRA told the team it would be eligible to compete in sanctioned events if it regains its varsity status, according to the lawsuit.
George created a petition in 2020 to merge the IRA with the NCAA to increase funding and protection for rowing programs nationally because of NCAA regulations. The regulations allow external investors to help fund programs but would require the University to comply with financial fairness regulations. The women’s rowing team is an NCAA team and survived GW’s athletics program’s cuts.
George met with Vogel, then-University President Thomas LeBlanc and Board Secretary Avram Tucker in several separate meetings during his quest to protect the team’s status, but all declined to reinstate the team as a varsity sport, according to the lawsuit. The lawsuit states Tucker denied George’s request that Tucker approach the Board about the rowing team, and the Board refused to let George present at a meeting.
George and junior rower Aidan Rowland approached the Student Association’s undergraduate student life committee for support in their reinstatement campaign last semester. The SA Senate passed a resolution supporting the program in December, calling on the University to reinstate the team to its varsity status or combine it with the women’s program.
“As of this point, it’s been quiet on the SA’s front since the resolution was meant to signify support for the Men’s Rowing team to be reverted back to Varsity Status,” SA Sen. Christian Williams, CCAS-U, who co-sponsored the resolution, said in an email. “And likewise, we haven’t heard from the athletics department, at least from what I know.”