Excellence in Brown Athletics Initiative

Frequently Asked Questions

Addressing the goals of the initiative, the decision process, student support and other questions.

Goals and Resources

Grounded in Brown’s values and based on nearly a century and a half of history and tradition, the Excellence in Brown Athletics Initiative is a bold plan to reshape athletics for all of the University’s student-athletes.

The goal is to reshape Brown Athletics in a way that positions student-athletes to fully achieve excellence both in academics and in their sports. Students who compete at the varsity level want to experience competitive play with success, and competitive varsity teams contribute to building cohesive university communities. They build affinity and pride.

The initiative charts a positive path toward building a varsity athletics program for women and men that could be among the most competitive among Brown’s peers in the next 10 years. The initiative has the following three objectives:

  • Improve the competitiveness of the University’s varsity athletics teams.
  • Enhance the strength of club sports.
  • Uphold Brown’s commitment to providing equal opportunities in athletics for women and men.

A series of core action steps and new investments will enhance Brown’s ability to compete at the highest levels and complement the University’s exceptional track record in ensuring that student-athletes achieve academic excellence in classrooms and laboratories across campus. Through the initiative, Brown will:

  1. Revise the roster of varsity sports through a net reduction in teams from 38 to 34* (transitioning 6 varsity teams to club sports and two club sports to varsity), while enhancing existing club team offerings.
     
  2. Continue to focus on admission and recruitment of outstanding student-athletes, as well maintaining roster sizes that build competitiveness.
     
  3. Enhance the University’s focus on coaching, training and conditioning, including professional development for athletics staff.
     
  4. Advance facilities improvements that will make a difference in recruiting talented coaches and student-athletes, and improve competitiveness in varsity athletics.

(*Upon announcement of the athletics initiative in May 2020, 11 varsity teams were to be transitioned to club status. On June 9, 2020, the University chose to reinstate the varsity status of men's indoor track and field, men's outdoor track and field, and men's cross country; and on Sept. 17, 2020, to end a legal dispute, the varsity status of women's equestrian and women's fencing was reinstated. The updated number of varsity teams transitioning to club status became six.)

Effective immediately for the 2020-21 academic year, Brown ceased training, competition and related operations at the varsity level for the following sports:* men’s fencing; men’s and women’s golf; women’s skiing; and men’s and women’s squash. In addition, club coed sailing and club women’s sailing each transitioned to varsity status.

A number of the sports being transitioned out of varsity status already have club counterparts. This list includes golf, running, skiing and squash. Assuming there is student interest, fencing will become a new club sport.

(*Upon announcement of the athletics initiative in May 2020, 11 varsity teams were to be transitioned to club status. On June 9, the University chose to reinstate the varsity status of men's indoor track and field, men's outdoor track and field, and men's cross country; and on Sept. 17, the varsity status of women's equestrian and women's fencing was reinstated.)

Brown will maintain its current operational budget for varsity athletics. Operating funds made available with the reduction in varsity teams will be allocated strategically within the Department of Athletics.

While universities in some areas of the country have announced reductions in athletics programs as budget relief (in the wake of the 2019 novel coronavirus), this initiative at Brown is not a measure to reduce budget or an effort to contend with the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s a strategic opportunity to invest even further in advancing excellence in Brown’s full lineup of sports programs.

Through generations of generous donors, many of Brown’s sports have funds that support their programs. Funds established by alumni and parents have given Brown Athletics the ability to nimbly and strategically respond to emerging needs, such as new equipment purchases and team travel costs, as well as to strengthen nationwide recruiting efforts.

Through the Excellence in Brown Athletics Initiative, philanthropic dollars designated to specific sports will remain with those sports, regardless of their varsity or club status, whenever possible.

Competitiveness and Community

At the start of the 2019-20 academic year, Brown had 38 varsity teams. Almost 900 students competed across these teams, including non-recruited athletes invited to “walk on” to complete team rosters. Consultants who conducted an external review of Brown Athletics in 2018-19 found that the large number of varsity teams — the third highest in the nation — has hindered Brown’s ability to achieve its competitive aspirations.

Each of the initiative’s core action steps are designed to address those barriers. Brown will continue to recruit the same number of varsity athletes, and squad sizes on varsity teams will be adjusted. The smaller number of varsity teams also will support stronger recruiting in the admissions process, allowing for deeper talent on each team. Brown will also maintain its current operational budget for varsity athletics. Operating funds made available with the reduction in varsity teams will be allocated strategically within the Department of Athletics.

There have been exceptionally competitive teams at Brown over the past 10 years.

Since 2010, Brown teams have made 17 NCAA Tournament appearances and captured one National Championship in the sport of women’s crew (2011). And true to Brown’s values as a leading higher education institution, Brown athletic teams have consistently ranked among the highest in the nation with respect to NCAA Academic Progress Rates (APR), an annual scorecard of academic achievement calculated for all Division I sports teams. Individually, Brown student-athletes have excelled in the classroom, earning CoSIDA Academic All-American recognition.

Even so, in the decade from 2009 to 2018, Brown earned only 2.8% of Ivy League titles, the lowest in the league, despite the league’s focus on competitive balance across its eight participating schools.

At Brown, athletics is integrated as part of the educational experience as a program that advances intellectual and personal growth of students in a climate of high achievement and individual responsibility.

For years, Brown’s vision for varsity athletics has been to advance the ideal of the scholar-athlete — the bright and passionate student who embraces excellence both in academics and also in their sport. The vision is for athletes who, as Brown students, are among the most academically talented in the world, who also compete on teams that are among the most competitive among university peers.

The Excellence in Brown Athletics Initiative reshapes Brown Athletics in a way that positions student-athletes to fully achieve excellence both in academics and in their sports.

Brown’s Ivy League title record from 2009 to 2018 is inconsistent with the Ivy League principle of competitive balance across schools, and with Brown’s commitment to excellence. In the decade from 2009 to 2018, Brown earned only 2.8% of Ivy League titles, the lowest in the league, despite the league’s focus on competitive balance.

Brown believes that its varsity athletes will have a stronger experience with a roster of varsity teams that uphold some of the founding principles of Ivy League athletics:

  • academics and the personal growth of the students;
  • equal opportunity in athletics for men and women;
  • desirable development and recreation for student‐athletes; and
  • competitive balance across institutions  and sports over time.

Competitive athletics benefit the individual players and their communities. For both varsity and club sports, Brown recognizes the power of competitive athletics to bring together students, faculty, staff, families and alumni to build pride, affinity and a strong sense of community. Members of the community on campus and around the world share a common source of inspiration, hope and celebration when supporting Brown student-athletes as they progress through their seasons with a drive toward championship competition.

The vision is for athletes who, as Brown students, are among the most academically talented in the world, who also compete on teams that are among the most competitive among university peers. And club sports, which provide competitive opportunities open to wider participation, play an equally important role by advancing students’ health and well-being.

Enhancing Club Sports

Club sports have not always had as many resources as would benefit their participants. As part of this initiative, Brown is committed to investing more resources into its club sports and build a stronger club sports program. Operating funds made available with the reduction in varsity teams will be allocated strategically within the Department of Athletics.

A club sport at Brown is a student organization derived by and sustained through the interest and leadership of students, working in accordance with policies established by the Department of Athletics. Though competition is not mandatory at Brown, many teams are highly competitive. Each year, Brown has participated in regional and national tournaments, with some taking home National Championships and Top Five finishes.

Club sports at Brown aim to seamlessly integrate education and athletics. The philosophy is to promote and advance healthy lifestyle choices through participation opportunities, educational experiences and supportive services.

Club sports have been in existence at Brown since the early 19th century. As part of the long history of athletics at the University, Brown has maintained a robust club sports program that meets the needs of many student-athletes. Club sports continue to have a long-standing tradition of encouraging student development and providing leadership opportunities.

A number of the sports being transitioned out of varsity status already have club counterparts. Assuming there is student interest, men's fencing would become a new club sport.

  • men’s fencing — currently no established club
  • men’s and women’s golf (merge with golf club)
  • men’s and women’s squash (merge with squash club)
  • women’s skiing (merge with men’s ski club)

A list of all club sports is available on the Revised Varsity and Club Rosters page.

The sports transitioned to club sports will compete against other club teams in the region, including some travel, and nationally, if they qualify for the national championships of the respective governing bodies. Based on student interest and team budgets, Brown Athletics may hire a coach for club programs that are considered “highly competitive.” The club sports staff within the Department of Athletics will work with students to determine level of play (highly competitive, competitive, recreational) and appropriate league memberships within the club landscape.

Brown’s sailing program is one of the oldest and most successful collegiate sailing programs in the country. 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 current team is consistently ranked within the Top 10 in the country, racing in the highly competitive New England District of College Sailing. In 2019, the Bears won the College Sailing Women's National Championship, was ranked No. 1 nationally and finished fifth at the Coed Dinghy National Championship.

Since coming to Brown in 1999, head coach John Mollicone has coached 74 All-Americans, 85 Academic All-Americans, 109 All-New England Sailors and has led the Bears to 67 National Championship appearances. During this time, the team has finished Top Five at 30 National Championships and has won 16 New England Championships and eight Atlantic Coast Championships and Fall Showcases. The Sailing program operates out of the newly built Ted Turner ’60 Sailing Pavilion, which is part of the Edgewood Yacht Club.

Student Support

Brown will continue to focus on admission and recruitment of outstanding student-athletes, as well maintaining roster sizes that build competitiveness. The University will continue to recruit the same number of varsity athletes, and squad sizes on varsity teams will be adjusted. The smaller number of varsity teams also will support stronger recruiting in the admissions process, allowing for deeper talent on each team.

The timing of the launch of the Excellence in Brown Athletics Initiative, including the revised rosters of varsity and club sports, allows current student-athletes the most flexibility to consider their options. The fact that COVID-19 has raised uncertainty nationwide about collegiate competition next year means that effecting the change in varsity status now for the identified teams may provide Brown’s student-athletes with extra time to make decisions; it presented a timeframe with the least negative implications for student-athletes.

Because of COVID-19, students have time to consider options to preserve their eligibility; pursue individual competition; or transfer to schools with varsity programs, if they choose to do so. For incoming student-athletes who want to pursue enrolling at another institution that offers competitive play in their sport, Brown will waive limitations in the gap year policy that typically prevent students from applying for a gap year to pursue applying to other institutions.

All of the coaches for the transitioning sports will be sources of support for students considering their options over the summer, and most of the head coaches have been offered the opportunity to remain at Brown to coach transitioning club teams in their sport if they choose to.

Support for student-athletes is the top priority in this transition. Brown will provide assistance in counseling students about their options for remaining at Brown or, if they choose, transferring to another school. Brown’s incoming and current student-athletes have been invited to live Zoom sessions with athletics staff, representatives of the College and other support staff to have their questions answered and learn more about their options.

While club sports programs do not have access to athletic training facilities, sports medicine services or strength and conditioning facilities, Brown club teams will be eligible to use athletic facilities for organized practices and competitions during designated time slots. Reservations will be approved by the intramural and club sport manager.

Any student-athlete who continues to rehabilitate from a previous injury as a result of intercollegiate athletics participation at Brown will continue to have access to sports medicine services in the Department of Athletics. Academic support services will be available to all returning student-athletes and incoming recruited students. Coaches and athletics staff will provide support during the summer of 2020 and assist the current and newly admitted students impacted by this decision.

No institution in the Ivy League offers athletics scholarships. All financial aid at Brown and the other Ivy institutions is need-based. Therefore, the shift in varsity status for some teams does not have any direct effect on financial aid for Brown’s student-athletes.

Brown calculates financial aid awards based on need, independent of a student’s participation in athletics.

Students and alumni who competed in sports that were varsity through the 2019-20 year will remain eligible for Hall of Fame distinction, honoring the varsity history of the sport at Brown.

Diversity, Equity and Access

The initiative will align with the University’s diversity and inclusion efforts, expanding opportunities for non-recruited athletes to participate in competitive club sports and enhancing diversity on teams, which already attract student-athletes from diverse backgrounds. Ultimately, Brown’s full suite of athletics programs will recognize the robust athletic interests and abilities of all student-athletes and provide a wide group of students a comprehensive set of opportunities for competitive play at both the varsity and club levels.

Brown is committed to diversity and inclusion in all aspects of student life, and considering the impact on diversity within teams and across all sports at Brown was part of the rigorous, in-depth analysis of all sports. Multiple teams that have the highest diversity (in terms of historically underrepresented groups and socioeconomic diversity) have maintained their varsity status, while some sports that were among the least diverse transitioned to club status. The changes in varsity status of teams through the initiative achieve overall balance for maintaining the current overall socioeconomic and racial/ethnic diversity of varsity athletics. Prior to the launch of the initiative, approximately 20% of student-athletes were part of historically underrepresented groups (HUG), and while it’s difficult to predict whether the diversity of each team will remain the same over time, the revision of the lineup of varsity sports would maintain HUG representation at similar levels. The same is true for representation in varsity athletics of students with high financial need. Through recruiting efforts, Brown expects to further increase diversity on its varsity teams. As part of this initiative, Brown will invest in professional development for coaches to advance broader recruiting efforts to continue to attract a more diverse and more talented group of student-athletes. Brown has had recent success quickly improving diversity of teams with strategic recruiting.

Across all of Brown’s educational activities, the University is dedicated to ensuring equitable opportunities that protect all community members from gender- and sex-based discrimination. Not only is this the law — it is also deeply embedded in Brown’s values and campus-wide commitment to diversity and inclusion.

The Excellence in Athletics Initiative advances the University’s strong commitment to providing equal opportunity to women and men in varsity athletics, in addition to boosting the competitiveness of varsity sports at Brown.

It sustains compliance with the University’s gender equity obligation under Title IX. It will increase the percentage of varsity athletic participation opportunities for women athletes to be even more closely aligned with the percentage of women in the undergraduate student body, and it provides a wide and diverse array of students with robust opportunities for competitive play at the varsity and club levels.

Based on regulations and guidance from the Office for Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Education, universities can demonstrate the compliance of varsity athletics programs with Title IX in different ways.

Brown does so by ensuring that the proportion of varsity athletics opportunities offered to women corresponds with the percentage of Brown undergraduate students who are women, and likewise for men — a concept called substantial proportionality.

Based on regulations and guidance from the Office for Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Education, universities can demonstrate the compliance of varsity athletics programs with Title IX in different ways.

Brown does so by ensuring that the proportion of varsity athletics opportunities offered to women corresponds with the percentage of Brown undergraduate students who are women, and likewise for men — a concept called substantial proportionality.

Universities are afforded some variance between the gender breakdown of the undergraduate population and the portion of female or male varsity athletic participation opportunities. Brown’s approach is guided by the outcome of a 1992 federal lawsuit, Cohen v. Brown, in which the court found that women athletes were underrepresented at Brown compared to the number of women undergraduates.

Brown and the plaintiffs who filed the lawsuit in Cohen v. Brown resolved the case by negotiating the 1998 Joint Agreement, which has its own requirements and compliance structure separate and distinct from Title IX compliance. The Agreement itself is solely between Brown and its female student athletes and sets fixed percentages of proportionality with the undergraduate student body and other unique elements that are not required under Title IX (or the federal Equity in Athletics Disclosure Act). The Agreement is not binding on any other university in the country, and it does not involve the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, which enforces compliance with Title IX. Today, the system for Title IX regulations is much more developed and comprehensive than it was in 1998.

Cohen requires Brown — not other universities — to maintain no more than a 3.5% variance between the percentage of women in the undergraduate population and the percentage of varsity athletic participation opportunities for women. Under the Agreement, Brown also agreed that i­t would further decrease this cap to 2.25% if it made one of several changes to its varsity athletics, including the elimination of any existing women’s or coed varsity team. Brown has to maintain its varsity rosters in accordance with this variance, while other colleges and universities do not. Brown has always and will continue to comply with the Title IX requirement of having its student athlete population in substantial proportionality with its undergraduate population (not defined as a fixed percentage under the statute, unlike under Cohen).

In launching the Excellence in Athletics Initiative, Brown’s revised roster of teams was determined through an extensive, data-driven review that considered gender equity among the essential criteria for decision-making.

With the changes to the lineup of varsity teams, the University’s proportionality requirement will move to a maximum 2.25% variance. The composition of teams and squad sizes will comply in full with the terms established via the Cohen v. Brown settlement agreement.

In practice, the initiative will extend Brown’s commitment to gender equity in athletics even further. With the changes being made to the roster of varsity teams, Brown will increase the percentage of varsity opportunities for women athletes to be even more closely aligned with the percentage of women in the undergraduate student body.

A number of  colleges and universities sponsor women's track and field and cross country teams at the varsity level, but not men's. Brown aspires to build a large, highly competitive women's track and field and cross country program that would be distinctive in the Ivy League. In addition, considering the numbers of women and men athletes affected by the changes in varsity teams also was a factor. However, after receiving extensive community feedback on the value of the men's teams to the Brown community and the women's teams, the University chose on June 9, 2020, to reinstate the varsity status of men's indoor track and field, men's outdoor track and field, and men's cross country.

The Brown Sailing team currently competes in the Intercollegiate Sailing Association (ICSA), the organization that administers College Sailing. The ICSA is made up of intercollegiate and club programs who compete together. The ICSA sponsors a Women’s, Coed and Team National Championship.

Timing and Phasing

Brown made the very deliberate decision to announce the changes now, before the start of summer and a new recruiting season. The timing of the launch of the Excellence in Brown Athletics Initiative allows current student athletes the most flexibility to consider their options. One of the support measures for incoming student-athletes whose teams will transition is that, as a waiver of normal admissions policy, Brown will allow incoming student-athletes whose teams will transition to pursue a gap year if they want to apply to other schools with the hope they will be recruited to another competitive institution. The fact that COVID-19 has raised uncertainty nationwide about collegiate competition next year means that effecting the change in varsity status now for the identified teams may provide Brown’s student athletes with extra time to make decisions.

To maintain squads at a level to compete, coaches would have to recruit new student-athletes every year, even as current first-, second-, and third-year students sought to play out their careers at Brown. It would be difficult to phase the transition of a team with a decreasing number of student-athletes available each year. The opportunities for the remaining student-athletes to compete at a competitive level would be greatly diminished, negatively impacting their experience.

As deeply challenging as the pandemic has been in disrupting students' lives, and disproportionately affecting the lives of others, it presented a timeframe with the least negative implications for student-athletes.The fact that COVID-19 has raised uncertainty nationwide about collegiate competition next year means that effecting the change in varsity status in advance of the 2020-21 academic year for the identified teams may provide Brown’s student-athletes with extra time to make decisions.

Because of COVID-19, students have time to consider options to preserve their eligibility; pursue individual competition; or transfer to schools with varsity programs, if they choose to do so, though the University hopes that every student-athlete chooses to remain at Brown.

Decision Process

The Excellence in Brown Athletics Initiative aligns with a philosophy of ongoing self-examination in pursuit of distinction at the University — this applies to all aspects of academics, operations and student life. There have been two assessments of Brown athletics in the past decade.

In 2011, then-President Ruth Simmons charged an Athletics Review Committee to develop a vision and plan for intercollegiate athletics at Brown. A proposal for strengthening the Department of Athletics and providing more sustainable support for varsity teams focused on reducing budgets, a reduction in recruiting slots and reducing the number of varsity teams, as well as other changes. The University ultimately deferred the decision about changing the number of varsity teams. 

In 2018-19, consultants with expertise in Division I athletics conducted an external review of Brown sports and found that the large number of varsity teams was a barrier to competitiveness. The reviewers observed that “some sports struggle producing a roster that can merely participate let alone be competitive.”

The history of the Excellence in Brown Athletics Initiative dates back to an external review of Brown Athletics conducted in the 2018-19 academic year, which found that the high number of varsity sports at Brown (at 38, the second highest in the Ivy League and third highest in the country) hindered competitiveness.

In January 2020, University President Christina H. Paxson appointed a Committee on Excellence in Athletics and charged its members to make recommendations to enhance the quality of the student experience in athletics.

The revised roster of varsity teams was determined through a thorough, data-driven review. The Committee on Excellence in Athletics assessed such factors as the existing strengths of each team; current squad sizes; and the quality of facilities available for practice and competition. The committee considered, for instance, that Rhode Island does not have mountains to support a strong program in skiing, and not enough courts to host championship squash competitions, while we have one of the best sailing bays in the country and a new sailing facility. These were among the many factors of the analysis performed for each sport.

The committee was guided by the following principles in its considerations:

  • enhancing the quality of the student experience in athletics
  • increasing competitiveness in varsity athletics
  • providing for gender equity
  • ensuring diversity and inclusion
  • sustaining reasonable support for the pursuit of excellence
  • building a stronger University community with a focus on affinity, pride and collegiate loyalty

In May 2020, Brown’s governing body, the Corporation of Brown University, approved a set of recommendations put forward by University President Christina H. Paxson arising from the work of the Committee on Excellence in Athletics. This included recommendations to transition 11 varsity teams to club status and transition two club teams to varsity status to increase Brown’s competitiveness, as well as to enhance club sports at Brown.

To develop a proposal with recommendations to determine the numbers and identities of varsity and highly competitive club sports at Brown which accommodate students’ athletic interests and abilities.

Committee members were selected for their strong support for athletics at Brown and their capacity to make very difficult recommendations in a fair and objective manner.

  • Kevin A. Mundt ’76 (Chair), Trustee emeritus of the Corporation of Brown University and chair of the Athletics Advisory Council
  • Richard Caputo, Jr. ’88, Trustee of the Corporation of Brown University
  • Kathryn Quadracci Flores ’90, President’s Leadership Council and Athletics Advisory Council
  • Earl Eugene Hunt II ’03, President’s Leadership Council and newly appointed Trustee of the Corporation of Brown University (effective July 1, 2020)
  • Jonathan M. Nelson ’77, Fellow of the Corporation of Brown University
  • Paula McNamara ’84, Trustee emerita of the Corporation of Brown University and previous president of the Brown University Sports Association
  • Eileen Goldgeier ’85 (ex officio), Brown University Vice President and General Counsel

The committee was staffed by Jack Hayes, director of athletics, and Marguerite Joutz, chief of staff and assistant to the president.

To ensure that committee members could fulfill their charge without external influence, the composition of the committee was not announced until the conclusion of its work.

Committee members were alumni selected for their strong support for athletics at Brown and their capacity to make very difficult recommendations in a fair and objective manner. To maintain objectivity, no current members of the Brown community — students, faculty or staff — participated on the committee. To ensure that committee members could fulfill their charge without external influence, the work the committee was not announced until the conclusion of its work.

Relative operational expense was not the driver in the decisions. The revised roster of varsity teams was determined through a thorough, data-driven review. The committee assessed such factors as the existing strengths of each team; current squad sizes; and the quality of facilities available for practice and competition.

Members of the Brown community who have questions about the Excellence in Brown Athletics Initiative may email [email protected].