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Stanford cuts 11 varsity sports programs as the pandemic worsens finances

A gap in resources widened by the coronavirus pandemic is leading Stanford University to cut 11 varsity sports from the school's athletics program in 2021, the school announced Wednesday. By Allen Kim and David Close, CNN

(CNN) -- A gap in resources widened by the coronavirus pandemic is leading Stanford University to cut 11 varsity sports from the school's athletics program in 2021, the school announced Wednesday.

The school says because of the costs associated with running 36 varsity sports teams, the athletics program has been carrying an economic deficit for years -- and the pandemic exacerbated the financial burden.

The Cardinal sports teams to be eliminated are men's and women's fencing, field hockey, lightweight rowing, men's rowing, co-ed and women's sailing, squash, synchronized swimming, men's volleyball and wrestling.

"Still processing, but we will keep our heads on a swivel and fight this," associate head wrestling coach Ray Blake wrote on Twitter. "Stanford has made this decision with wrestling in the past and each time, the program has come back stronger."

In an open letter, school leaders said the Covid-19 impact could equal a $70 million shortfall over the next three years if changes aren't made.

"This is heartbreaking news to share," the open letter said. "These 11 programs consist of more than 240 incredible student-athletes and 22 dedicated coaches. They were built by more than 4,000 alumni whose contributions led to 20 national championships, 27 Olympic medals, and an untold number of academic and professional achievements."

All the teams set to be eliminated in 2021 will compete in the 2020-2021 academic year if the pandemic circumstances allow, the school said, and the programs will be able to transition to club sports after 2020-2021.

Stanford alum and 2016 Olympic bronze and silver fencing medalist Alexander Massialas wrote on Instagram that he was "disappointed and furious" at the decision.

"My heart goes out to all the student-athletes who not only had their seasons cut short by the global pandemic, but are now being abruptly told they won't be competing anymore," he wrote. "I'm going to fight with you to keep these programs alive and give young people the opportunity to pursue their athletic and academic goals like I was able to."

Twenty support staff positions will also be eliminated. The school said it will honor any athletic scholarships, and contracts of affected coaches, and the affected support staff will be given severance pay.

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