Dartmouth cuts five sports teams and closes Hanover Country Club

by Justin Kramer , Addison Dick and Lili Stern | 7/9/20 5:03pm

swimming-sports-cut
by Daniel Berthe / The Dartmouth Staff

Updated July 10, 2020 at 2:42 a.m.

Dartmouth announced this afternoon that it will eliminate the men’s and women’s golf, men’s lightweight rowing and men’s and women’s swimming and diving programs, effective immediately, in order to increase flexibility in admissions and ease its budget deficit. In addition, the Hanover Country Club will permanently close. 

These changes, which come a day after the Ivy League announced the cancellation of all fall sports, were devised by athletics director Harry Sheehy in consultation with the Dartmouth Athletic Advisory Board after College President Phil Hanlon asked Sheehy to reduce the number of recruited athletes in each incoming class by 10 percent. 

In his email to campus announcing the decision, Hanlon wrote that “athletic recruitment at Dartmouth has begun to impact [the College’s] ability to achieve the right balance between applicants who are accomplished in athletics and applicants who excel in other pursuits.”

After Sheehy developed a plan to accommodate the 10 percent decrease, the changes were affirmed by Hanlon and the Board of Trustees. Dartmouth has stated that it does not intend to further reduce the number of teams.

“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,” Hanlon wrote.

Athletes from impacted varsity programs were invited at 12:45 p.m. to a 1:30 p.m. Zoom webinar in an email with the subject line “Dartmouth Athletics Update.” They were informed of the decision during the webinar, and Hanlon sent an email to campus once the athletes had been notified.

“We were all pretty blindsided because we got a very ominous text and email about 40 minutes before the webinar saying ‘very important message for women’s golf at 1:30,’” women’s golfer Samantha Yao ’23 said. “We didn’t know anything; even our coach didn’t know anything.”

The announcement comes as the College faces a projected $150 million institutional budget deficit caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The elimination of the five teams, the closure of the country club and other administrative restructuring will save the College more than an estimated $2 million, according to Hanlon’s statement.

The Hanover Country Club, originally built in 1899, is Dartmouth’s oldest existing recreational and athletic facility. According to the statement, the College expected deficits from the country club to surpass $1 million annually and noted the downward trend of the golf industry nationally. The College has no plans to sell the property and will explore how to keep it open for community recreational use.

Public policy professor Charlie Wheelan ’88, a former men’s golfer at Dartmouth who chaired the College’s Golf Course Advisory Committee in 2018, believes the closure of the country club is a large loss for the Hanover community.

“I am disappointed but not surprised,” Wheelan said. “I do think, in light of the circumstances, it is a defensible decision by the College.”

In deciding which sports teams to eliminate, the College considered “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,” according to Hanlon’s email.

Yao called the College’s decision “devastating” for herself and her women’s golf teammates.

“To be told you’re no longer going to be recognized as a sport at Dartmouth is pretty devastating,” Yao said. “I guess we’re all just in the space of processing it right now and seeing what our future at Dartmouth is going to look like.”

The College has also ensured that the new composition of the athletics department will continue to follow Title IX regulations. The percentage of female varsity athletes will reflect the percentage of women in the student body. 

For varsity athletes whose sports were eliminated Thursday, the next steps remain unclear. In his email, Hanlon wrote that he hopes that these students will remain at Dartmouth but will support them if they wish to continue their collegiate athletic careers elsewhere. Student-athletes will be permitted to take the year off from Dartmouth to pursue transfer options without losing the ability to return to Dartmouth the following year. In addition, Class of 2024 recruits will be able to request gap years without committing to enroll the following year.

Hanlon’s email highlighted the possibility for members of the varsity golf and varsity swimming and diving teams to participate in their respective club sports. Though there is no club substitute for rowing, lightweight rowers will be permitted to try out for the heavyweight team, as some rowers have previously.

“I expect juniors and seniors to stay because it is too late for us to transfer,” men’s swimmer Ethan Moon ’22 said. “I think incoming freshmen — I can imagine them transferring out. [Club sports are] something that some people will do as an alternative to continue exercising, but it in no way replaces what we had.”

Dartmouth has committed to maintaining its Dartmouth Peak Performance offerings, such as academic and career counseling, for affected athletes. Nonetheless, Yao expressed concern as to whether she and her teammates would still receive DP2 resources and funding for transportation to other golf courses as club athletes. She was uncertain whether she would play club golf in the future.

“It’s definitely an option; obviously it’s not the option we want to hear,” Yao said. “I just want to be a varsity sport and keep playing how I’ve been playing.”

Of the five teams cut, the men’s golf and lightweight rowing teams have seen the most success. Dartmouth has won three Ivy League men’s golf championships, most recently in 1983. The program has produced seven All-Americans and four Ivy League Players of the Year. The lightweight rowing program has produced three championships for the Big Green in its history, the most recent of which came in 2007.

While at the individual level, Dartmouth has produced several top performers and championship winners in swimming and diving over the years, neither the men’s nor the women’s team have ever won an Ivy League championship. Similarly, the women’s golf team has never brought home a crown but has produced one All-American.

The five teams that will be eliminated comprise about 110 students. Additionally, a total of 15 positions will be cut in the athletics department, including eight coaching positions.

“I don’t really know what just being a student at Dartmouth will be like,” Yao said. “Being a student-athlete was a big part of my identity as well as the team’s identity.”