Dartmouth Announces Changes to Varsity Athletics Program

News subtitle

President Hanlon: “I can assure you that these decisions were made with great care.”

Aerial view of the Dartmouth campus
Photo by Eli Burakian ’00

To better balance the makeup of incoming undergraduate classes and help ease a budget deficit made worse by the pandemic, Dartmouth today announced changes to its varsity athletics program.

The changes, which will eliminate five varsity athletic teams and a number of staff positions, will give Dartmouth more flexibility in admissions, reducing the number of recruited athletes in incoming classes by 10%. The move also contributes to the steps Dartmouth is taking to address budget challenges, including a projected $150 million financial deficit brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The teams to be eliminated, effective immediately, are men’s and women’s swimming and diving, men’s and women’s golf, and men’s lightweight rowing, dropping to 30 the number of varsity teams. A total of about 110 student-athletes participate on these five teams.

In addition, Dartmouth is permanently closing the Hanover Country Club—which is owned by Dartmouth and operated at the College-owned golf course—after years of the club’s running in the red, with deficits expected to swell to $1 million a year.

“I can assure you that these decisions were made with great care and with the long-term interests of the learning experience provided by Dartmouth Athletics front and center,” President Philip J. Hanlon ’77 said in an email today to faculty, students, staff, and all undergraduate families.

President Hanlon’s decision came after extensive consultation with Harry Sheehy, director of athletics and recreation, and Sheehy’s leadership team.

“Harry and I realize that on top of what has already been a uniquely challenging year, this is deeply disappointing news,” he wrote. “I remain fully committed to Dartmouth Athletics and am confident that the steps outlined here will make it a leaner but stronger program.”

Harry’s leadership team, in consultation with the Dartmouth Athletic Advisory Board, “reluctantly concluded that the best path forward” was to reduce the number of varsity teams, and Dartmouth’s Board of Trustees also accepted the plan, Hanlon wrote.

The pandemic and the resulting financial challenges hastened the athletics decision, with the department—and all departments, divisions, and schools at Dartmouth—facing financial cutbacks to reduce the projected deficit by the end of the new fiscal year, in June 2021. Elimination of the teams, closing the country club, and an administrative restructuring underway in athletics are projected to save more than $2 million.

The teams will be suspended immediately and jobs for 15 staff, including eight coaching positions, will end. The country club has been closed since this past fall. Dartmouth has no plans to sell the property and will explore how to keep it open for community recreational use.

Hanlon wrote that “with 35 varsity teams and the smallest enrollment within the Ivy League, athletic recruitment at Dartmouth has begun to impact our ability to achieve the right balance between applicants who are accomplished in athletics and applicants who excel in other pursuits. To achieve greater flexibility in shaping the incoming class, I asked Harry to reduce the number of recruited athletes in each entering class by 10%.”

Having fewer recruits will provide increased flexibility for Dartmouth’s admissions. In the past five years there have been more applicants and an increase in the percentage of admitted students who enroll at Dartmouth.

“In short, we are able to admit a much smaller fraction of those who apply than we did even a few years ago and need to broaden opportunities for the increasing number of applicants who excel in a wide range of areas,” Hanlon wrote.

Over the past several months, Sheehy and his colleagues considered the ways to meet Hanlon’s directive to reduce the number of student-athletes and decided to cut teams rather than make across-the-board cuts in each of Dartmouth’s varsity teams.

“This will maintain the strength of varsity athletics into the future, instead of diluting the talent and competitive experience of all teams. While the elimination of teams is the most painful option, I agree that this approach is in the best long-term interest of both athletics and Dartmouth,” wrote Hanlon.

In deciding which teams to eliminate, Sheehy’s team reviewed a series of factors in assessing the experiences of student-athletes and the contributions teams make to the community. These included the ability to provide a high-quality student-athlete experience; community-building power; history and tradition of success and the potential for future success; the quality of facilities in relation to Dartmouth’s peers; national participation at high-school and college levels; Dartmouth’s geography and climate; and the level of investment required to ensure future competitive success in sports in which Dartmouth is not now experiencing success.

Hanlon said he and Sheehy hope that incoming athletes and current students on the eliminated teams will stay at Dartmouth. However, if they chose to pursue athletic careers elsewhere, Dartmouth “will do everything we can to support and advise them of their options,” the president wrote.

The change in the number of teams does not alter Dartmouth’s compliance with federal Title IX regulations, which require equal opportunities for women and men in varsity athletics. With the remaining 30 teams, the percentage of women who are varsity athletes will be identical to the percentage of women in the undergraduate student body, according to Hanlon.

“We are proud of the gender, racial, and socioeconomic diversity of athletes at Dartmouth and are more committed than ever to ensure that our teams remain inclusive,” he wrote.

Hanlon extended his appreciation to the coaches for their “dedication to athletic excellence and their commitment to Dartmouth. We would like to publicly acknowledge their hard work and the fierce competitive spirit consistently displayed over the years.”

The president said the change to remote learning that began when Dartmouth shut down the campus in March due to the pandemic has underscored the loss of fellowship and spirit that are a part of cheering for the home team.

“As we have learned during the past several months of being apart, we miss connecting with one another and coming together as a community. Intercollegiate competition unifies us around a common goal, strengthening bonds that transcend sport,” wrote Hanlon. “I look forward to the return of competition to the Dartmouth campus and to the benefits it brings to our extended community.”

See President Hanlon’s email to the community and read FAQs about the decision.

Office of Communications