Following practice from 6 a.m. to 8 a.m. on Nov. 25, Dartmouth men’s swim team co-captain Paul Schned returned to his room to find an e-mail summoning him to a 9 a.m. team meeting. Instead of discussing the Big Green’s future at the meeting, the college dean and athletic director informed Schned and his teammates that the swimming and diving varsity programs had no future. The programs would be eliminated at the end of the school year.
“I was struck with a million different emotions,” Schned said. “First of all, I was upset, and I couldn’t understand how it was being eliminated. I was in disbelief.”
According to a press release from Dartmouth’s Office of Public Affairs, a 5.7 percent decrease in the value of the college’s investments was partly responsible for the administration’s decision. The decrease in the college’s investments placed financial strains on the endowment, and eliminating the swimming and diving teams will save Dartmouth $212,000 annually.
The announcement provoked not only the ire of the team and swimming alumni, but also the concern of the entire student body, who felt they were not consulted in the administration’s decision.
“The reason the general campus was mad was that there was no student input,” men’s swimming co-captain Louis Fidel said. “[The Dartmouth administration] talks all the time about how much they want student input. A lot of student groups are afraid of that.”
Dartmouth swimming alumnus Steve Mullins said the alumni response will be significant, as well.
“We’re gathering our forces to decide what direction to take,” Mullins said.
The Dartmouth announcement has especially attracted the attention of other Ivy League administrators, who deny their schools have any similar plans.
Yale Deputy Provost Lloyd Suttle said Dartmouth is in worse shape financially than Yale. Last spring, President Richard Levin added co-ed and women’s sailing to the list of varsity sports at Yale.
“At this point, it is unimaginable that it would happen here,” Suttle said. “Who knows what the future will bring, but at this point there are no plans to eliminate sports or other programs.”
Yale Director of Athletics Tom Beckett said he was personally saddened by the decision.
Likewise, Cornell Athletics Director Andy Noel also said that Dartmouth’s decision was upsetting, and that his school’s swimming programs were not in danger of being cut.
“We regret that Dartmouth needed to make this type of very tough decision,” Noel said. “We at Cornell do not have any plans of eliminating either of our swimming programs.”
But Dartmouth Deputy Director of Athletics Bob Ceplikas said Dartmouth is not the only top school suffering financially. He cited Duke and Stanford as examples, but said he could not speculate on the nature of their or other schools’ difficulties.
“I don’t think I can talk about it right now,” men’s head coach Jim Wilson said. He added that his emotional response was too strong to discuss the situation by telephone.
But Wilson described in an e-mail how his team members are coping.
“My heart breaks for the current swimmers and divers here at Dartmouth,” Wilson said. “To put in the amount of work and effort they all do, and have the program eliminated, is gut-wrenching.”
The announcement also hit hard for women’s captain Mia Yocco, who said her initial reactions were mixed.
“We were all completely in shock,” Yocco said. “And once the shock wore away, the only way I could equate it is that I felt my heart had been ripped out.”
Men’s swimming alumnus Luis Berrera said he did not hear about the decision until Nov. 27, but his initial response was anger.
“The way the administration handled it, giving us notice so close to Thanksgiving — it seems like they timed it so as not to receive so much criticism and to give it time to blow over,” Berrera said.
Mullins said the timing was not his main issue. Instead, he said he felt aggrieved that neither the opinions of the alumni nor those of students, coaches or parents were asked for prior to making the decision.
“I’m more concerned with the process,” Mullins said. “It was all internal. No one else was brought into the process at all.”
In response to the complaints about the timing of the announcement, Ceplikas said the athletics department was being more conscientious about the public’s response, not less.
“We could have delayed the announcement until after Thanksgiving or exams or the winter term,” Ceplikas said. “But our final sentiment was that we had a moral obligation to our students, parents and prospective students to give as much notice of this circumstance as possible.”
For prospective students, it would be unfair to wait longer when they had to decide where to apply, Ceplikas said. But the announcement does not come in time for those early Dartmouth applicants. Early decision applications were due Nov. 1. Ceplikas added that administrators were available at a rally the day after the announcement and an open forum a week later.
But Fidel said the fact that the administration did not solicit student opinion before the landmark decision made all students uneasy.
“If they can do it to us, they can do it to just about any group on campus,” Fidel said.
“The message from the suits, which was swathed in the fluff of academese, was, at its core, simple, cold and irreducible: Beat it,” wrote Rick Telander in the Chicago Sun-Times on Nov. 29. Telander, a sports writer, is also father of Cary Telander, a freshman on the Big Green women’s swim team.
Telander’s column highlights the national media attention, including a future Sports Illustrated feature, that the Dartmouth decision has received.
And although Dartmouth students are immersed in their two-day reading period, Fidel said a student assembly meeting the night of the announcement drew so many students that the venue changed to accommodate them all.
“Eventually, one kid stood up and said ‘Let’s go over to their houses,'” Fidel said. “So they marched to the Dean’s house and stood on the lawn for a while.”
Fidel said only pressure from powerful alumni could force the administration to reverse the decision.
“We have our foot in the door,” Fidel said.
But Ceplikas said the decision would never change and remains convinced it is for the best, although hard to accept.
“The decision is final,” Ceplikas said. “We deeply regret the decision we felt we had to make. It’s a painful decision to accept and caused us great agony to reach that conclusion.”
Schned said one student, Ryan McElroy, cited the decision as a factor in his decision to transfer from Dartmouth. McElroy could not be reached for comment.
But Katherine Brodie, a freshman swimmer, said she was not going to transfer, though the thought had entered her mind.
“I still have to be optimistic that we will somehow get our team back,” Brodie said.