The Committee on Excellence in Athletics was advisory in its role and made recommendations based on a thorough assessment process to President Christina H. Paxson, later approved by the Corporation of Brown University. President Paxson charged the committee with developing a plan to reduce the number of varsity sports at Brown.
The University’s decision to reduce varsity sports was the result of many factors:
- years of discussions with members of the athletics department who expressed that physical and financial resources are stretched too thinly to adequately support Brown’s student-athletes;
- conversations with numerous alumni who acknowledged that Brown should cut sports; and
- findings of a confidential external review in 2018-19 to consider how Brown could improve the competitiveness of varsity athletics assuming the context of its existing 38 varsity teams.
Although the external reviewers were not asked to make recommendations on reducing varsity sports, and did not compare the competitiveness of different teams, the challenges of having such a large number of teams came up repeatedly in their findings.
This underscored the point that, although Brown’s student-athletes are outstanding educationally and athletically, without appropriate resources, support and facilities, it is impossible to provide them with excellent experiences as highly competitive varsity athletes. Therefore, reducing the number of varsity teams became one of four core steps outlined in the Excellence in Brown Athletics Initiative for making improvements.
Committee Assessment for Varsity Recommendations
As the advisory committee began its work to develop recommendations to present to the University administration, committee members recognized that every team is different and has a unique set of circumstances. Many of Brown’s teams are good, so the major consideration was to determine where Brown could focus its efforts to make significant gains in competitiveness.
The committee assessed the following as part of a holistic review:
The committee recognized that every one of the sports transitioned to club status has had success. It was also clear that there are athletes on all the transitioning teams who have been individually competitive over the years, including Olympians and national champions. But in some cases the sports programs have not had success in competition with their Ivy League peers.
The committee considered this in the context of the findings of a 2018-19 external review, which determined that the large roster of varsity sports at Brown (at 38, the third largest in the country) was a barrier to Brown’s competitiveness. This was largely for reasons of difficulty maintaining appropriate squad sizes while complying with gender equity requirements (addressed in the equity section of this page).
One consideration for the committee was to focus on retaining sports that competed well in competitions where most, or at least half, of the Ivy League schools competed. For non-Ivy sports, a factor was performance within the relevant league or association, and whether the relevant league or association included only varsity teams or combined club and varsity teams.
The committee also examined how Brown stood in the overall competitive landscape. The committee considered the following: Were other institutions in the Ivy League or in the relevant peer group so far ahead of Brown in recruitment, facilities and strength of competition that Brown would be unlikely to ever catch up? Does Brown have club sports that are so strong that Brown is already positioned to compete at a high level? And, could there be opportunities for Brown to help shape the future of a sport?
The shift of club sailing to varsity status brought a unique advantage. In the Ivy League, if there are five schools that offer a varsity sport, it becomes a championship sport. With the transition of sailing to the varsity level, Brown joins Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard and Yale in a new Ivy League Championship sport — and with sailing teams that win national championships already.
The committee asked: Are the squad sizes appropriate for the particular sport’s competition? Is this a team that needs a great deal of international financial aid to build the squad, considering that Brown doesn’t have generous resources for such aid, compared to our peers? And how far “under-sized” was Brown in the sport? The aforementioned external review had determined that many of Brown’s teams are too small to draw on a deep talent pool to be competitive. (This is discussed in more detail under the section on gender equity).
Ensuring diversity and inclusion is a foundational principle for all strategic planning at Brown. The committee analyzed data on the percentage of students from historically underrepresented groups (HUGs) on each team, as well as the percentage of students from the highest-need financial aid categories. The committee was very careful to consider how this diversity would shift before and after transitioning the varsity status of teams.
Prior to the launch of the initiative, HUG representation across all 38 varsity sports was approximately 20%. The committee determined that the revision of the lineup of varsity sports would maintain HUG varsity representation at similar levels across all varsity sports, even if Brown changed nothing about its recruiting. The same is true for representation of students with high financial need. Multiple teams that have the highest diversity (in terms of representation of historically underrepresented groups and socioeconomic diversity) have maintained their varsity status through this initiative, while some sports that were among the least diverse transitioned to club status.
However, the committee also looked at recent success of aggressive recruiting efforts in increasing team diversity, and envisioned an increase in diversity-enhanced recruiting over time. President Paxson set the expectation that plans be developed in the Department of Athletics and Recreation for broadening its recruiting strategies in DIAP Phase II (the current update to Brown’s 2016 Diversity and Inclusion Action Plan, Pathways to Diversity and Inclusion: An Action Plan for Brown). Enhanced recruiting became one of the four core actions of the athletics initiative, following committee discussions about the impact of transitioning varsity sports on communities of color at Brown.
Brown is firmly committed to providing equal opportunities in athletics, regardless of gender, because it is the right thing to do. The University also has a compliance and legal obligation to offer proportional opportunities to participate in athletics for women and men at Brown because of federal Title IX regulations and a 1998 legal settlement (settling the 1992 Cohen v. Brown lawsuit) that established firm standards. For this reason, gender equity played a large role in the committee’s considerations.
Under the 1998 legal settlement, which applies only to Brown and not to other universities, the fraction of athletics opportunities for women must remain within a tight band around the fraction of the undergraduate population that is women. As the fraction of women in the undergraduate student body has increased over time (currently at about 53%), it had become more challenging for Brown to meet its obligations under the settlement agreement and Title IX given the number of teams it had (38 varsity teams prior to the athletics initiative). In the past, the University achieved the required gender balance by maintaining squad sizes of men’s teams that, on average, are below Ivy League squad sizes.
The committee realized that, in their judgment, the best way to restore competitiveness and meet the goal of reducing the number of teams overall was to eliminate a number of larger men’s teams. This was an important factor in an initial decision to eliminate the varsity status of men’s track, field and cross-country which, together, provide the most varsity opportunities to men second only to football — the latter of which is a required sport for membership in the Ivy League.
On June 9, 2020, Brown announced the decision to reinstate the varsity status of men’s track, field and cross country and to examine alternative strategies for addressing the issues that arise from the settlement agreement. Brown announced it would modify squad sizes of its teams to remain in compliance with the requirements of the legal settlement and with Title IX while examining other strategies. On Sept. 17, 2020, the varsity status of women's equestrian and women's fencing was reinstated.
The committee considered what facilities exist at Brown for training, hosting practices, competitions and championships. Factors included the level of investment required for team travel to train and compete, what recent investments already had been made in facilities, and what definitive infrastructure projects are already planned that could help Brown increase competitiveness within the next 10 years.
The committee reviewed recent enhancements to facilities, including the Berylson Family Football Complex, the Ted Turner ’60 Sailing Pavilion at Edgewood Yacht Club on Narragansett Bay in Cranston, and Marston Boathouse. They also looked at assets such as Brown’s new Center for Lacrosse and Soccer; two new playing fields; the Attanasio Family Field at Murray Stadium; the Brown Softball Field; and renovations to the Pizzitola Sports Center locker rooms. They also were informed of the work that will begin soon to upgrade Meehan Auditorium, home to Brown ice hockey.
The committee considered the capacity of a sport to build interest and engagement throughout the Brown community and therefore build affinity, pride and collegiate loyalty. The committee explored, for example, which sports are accessible to spectators for building a fan base, either on site or via broadcast; which appeal to the broadest demographics; and which have existing long histories of community and alumni engagement at Brown. This was a qualitative element of the review, and was reviewed as a distinguishing factor in the context of other variables. Community affinity alone was not a determining factor.
The committee assessed competitiveness (as described in an earlier section of this page) based on information on team standings dating back 10 years, hosted on the Ivy League website. Data on team records for Brown, as well as squad sizes, also is online.
The bulk of the data for the committee’s analysis is all publicly available and accessible to any member of the Brown community or the public. The exception is the diversity and socioeconomic breakdown of teams. Because of privacy requirements that prohibit releasing demographic information that could identify members of groups, this is not information that is publicly released about a subgroup of participants in any activity or program at Brown.
The committee did not look at the operating budgets of the different sports, and budgets were not a factor in decisions. The committee took a holistic look at each sport and then focused on retaining the varsity sports that Brown can make significantly stronger through a focus on recruitment, enhanced coaching and facilities improvements.