Important Message About Athletics

To the Dartmouth community,

I write to announce difficult, but necessary, decisions regarding our varsity athletics program.

Dartmouth Athletics is a great source of pride for our community. Our athletics program has contributed to the growth and learning of countless students throughout the history of our institution, teaching them important life skills such as resilience, teamwork, and focus. We take seriously our competitive successes and our commitment to educating talented student-athletes, knowing that Ivy League competition forges leaders for life.

Under the visionary leadership of Athletics Director Harry Sheehy, we have made historic levels of investment that have benefited the program and, most importantly, our student-athletes. Thanks to the generous support of passionate alumni over the last decade, more than $150 million has been invested in new facilities, upgrades, personnel, and the innovative Dartmouth Peak Performance initiative.

However, 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%.

This increased flexibility is crucial given our growing success in admissions.

Over the past five years we have seen an upward trend in applicants and a sharp increase in yield--the percentage of students who are admitted and choose to attend. 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.

Financial considerations have added to the challenges. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, Dartmouth was facing financial challenges due to the urgent need to address a number of high-cost capital projects, including renovation of our aging residence halls, the modernization of our campus energy system, and an upgrade to our IT infrastructure. In addition, the severe and sudden financial pressure created by the COVID-related institutional budget deficit, projected to be $150 million at the end of the fiscal year ending June 30, 2021, has dramatically accelerated our need to find savings across Dartmouth. This is forcing every school and division, including athletics, to make difficult decisions to adjust to a new financial reality.

Given the imperative to reduce in both recruiting and finances, Harry and his leadership team engaged in a comprehensive process during which they prioritized options that would preserve the number of varsity athletic teams.

Ultimately, given the scale of the challenge, that was not possible. In consultation with the Dartmouth Athletic Advisory Board, they reluctantly concluded that the best path forward is to reduce the number of varsity teams rather than spread recruiting and budgetary reductions across all 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.

Harry developed a plan, which the board of trustees and I have accepted, to reduce the number of varsity teams to 30 through the immediate elimination of men's and women's swimming and diving; men's and women's golf; and men's lightweight rowing. We hope that the students on these teams will remain at Dartmouth, but we understand that they may want to pursue collegiate athletic careers elsewhere, and we will do everything we can to support them and advise them of their options. Incoming recruits will have the opportunity to request gap years without the standard commitment to enroll the following year.

In order to make the difficult decision of which teams to eliminate, Harry and his team established a series of factors to assess the experience of student-athletes and the contributions each team makes to the community. Any one or two factors alone would have produced different decisions, but Harry and his team embraced a wide-ranging approach. Among the many factors included were the ability to provide a high-quality student-athlete experience; power to build community; history and tradition of success; potential for future success; quality of facilities in relation to our 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 we are not now experiencing success.

In addition, athletics is implementing an administrative restructuring plan and other cost-saving measures to achieve further budgetary reductions.

As part of our overall budget reduction plan, we will permanently close the Hanover Country Club. In recent years, as the cost of operating the golf club has risen and memberships have declined, Dartmouth has had to absorb annual operating deficits in the range of $500,000 to $700,000. Those deficits swell to more than $1 million annually when deferred maintenance is included. Given the downward trend in the golf industry nationally, it is not realistic to expect these deficits to subside. As a result, we are no longer able to justify a deficit of this magnitude. The property, which we have no plans to sell, remains important to Dartmouth's future. We are committed to providing public access to the adjacent Pine Park and, in partnership with the town of Hanover, we will explore how to safely open the land for community recreational use.

The elimination of varsity teams is a gut-wrenching decision given the profound impact and sadness that these steps bring to student-athletes, their coaches, and the communities that have passionately supported these teams over the years. 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.

Harry and I realize that on top of what has already been a uniquely challenging year, this is deeply disappointing news. As Harry shared with the coaches and teams earlier today, we could not be more proud of 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.

We are announcing these changes now so that all students who may be affected can make appropriate decisions about their enrollment. Dartmouth offers club sports in both golf and swimming and interested former varsity athletes are welcome to join. Fortunately, the national governing bodies for club golf and swimming allow immediate eligibility for former varsity athletes. In the case of men's lightweight rowing, the inherent safety risks preclude consideration of a club program in that sport. Lightweight rowers are, however, eligible to try out for the men's heavyweight team. A number of talented lightweight rowers have transitioned to rowing for the heavyweight crew over the years.

These changes are consistent with our commitment to provide equal opportunity for women and men in varsity athletics under Title IX. Within the remaining 30 teams, the percentage of women among varsity athletes will be virtually identical to the percentage of women in the undergraduate student body. 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.

I thank the Department of Athletics and Recreation for its commitment to Dartmouth and to our students, and for doing its part at a time when we are carefully examining how to allocate reduced resources across the institution.

For additional information on the changes, I encourage you to visit the athletics website at the following link, where you will find answers to frequently asked questions.

I feel heartbroken for the affected teams and student athletes. But I remain fully committed to Dartmouth Athletics and am confident that the steps outlined here will make it a leaner but stronger program. 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. I look forward to the return of competition to the Dartmouth campus and to the benefits it brings to our extended community.


Philip J. Hanlon '77