Student-athletes reflect on cancellation and reinstatement of Division I varsity sports
The cancellation occurred due to a projection of a $150 million financial deficit caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
This article is featured in the 2023 Commencement & Reunions special issue.
On July 9, 2020, Dartmouth College announced that they would discontinue five Division I varsity sports in order to prevent a projected $150 million financial deficit due to the COVID-19 pandemic. After these teams — men’s and women’s swimming and diving, men’s and women’s golf and men’s lightweight rowing — were cut, 110 student-athletes lost their collegiate athletic status and 15 staff members lost their jobs. The Hanover Country Club was also permanently shut down during this time period.
Five months later, in January 2021, all five sports were reinstated after the women’s swimming and diving and women’s golf teams hired a lawyer to investigate possible Title IX violations. At the threat of litigation for not complying with Title IX, the College entered a settlement agreement, promising to reinstate the women’s teams that had been cut. Although the settlement agreement did not require it, the College also reinstated the men’s teams. Even though this occurred nearly three years ago, the team cuts and reinstatements still impact the five teams today, according to Charles Petrie ’22.
When the initial news broke that the teams had been disbanded, Men’s golf co-captain Petrie first received a text during the pandemic in summer 2020 that urged him and other student-athletes to get on a Zoom call.
“I remember it really vividly,” Petrie said. “I was out practicing, and then we got these automated texts, and I think the first word was like ‘urgent,’ at which point I knew something pretty significant was happening.”
The news was not such a shock to men’s golf co-captain Mark Turner ’22, as he had heard rumors of teams getting cut. Turner had previously heard from other teams at Dartmouth and beyond that they were concerned that their teams may be cut, which worried him.
On the bright side, Petrie and Turner said they came to appreciate playing golf at Dartmouth more so after the reinstatement.
“I had more of an appreciation to be able to just play golf at Dartmouth — more so than always worrying about scores, shooting good numbers,” Turner said.
“I feel like I got a lot closer with my teammates and with our coach,” Petrie added. “Our coach went through so much as well.”
The women’s golf head coach Alex Kirk thought it was best to not look back after the reinstatement. “You got to pick up the pieces and move forward,” said Kirk. “You learn from the situation but you can’t live in fear.”
The men’s and women’s golf teams kept the same coach, which helped the team move one; however, the loss of the Hanover Country Club had a large impact on both teams.
“That was our course we could play on campus,” Petrie said. “We now have to drive 20 minutes to a course to play. We are very lucky to be able to play there, but it's not the same as having a course on campus.”
Men’s golf head coach Rick Parker commented on the progress of the team post reinstatement, noting that “everyone was so rusty” due to the lack of golf tournaments for a year.
“It’s obvious you don’t pick up where you left off,” Parker said. “I think that’s the part that people didn’t understand. Everybody was so rusty, because no one had played in any tournaments.”
But Parker said he has high hopes for his team in the future.
“I’m looking forward to us getting back to where we were before we were cut, and we were close this year,” Parker said. “I know we’re building our way up, and we had a really good finish this year.”
The women’s golf team lost a couple of players who transferred to different schools because of the initial cut of the team, according to head coach Alex Kirk. Kirk said he helped these transfer athletes to ensure that they still played golf, and he still keeps in touch with them.
“Most of my players stay in touch with me,” Kirk said. “You’re doing something right when the kids still want to keep in touch with you. I’m pretty proud of the program we put together, and we’re a smart team.”
Men’s Lightweight Rowing
Prior to the men’s lightweight rowing’s cut in 2020, current head coach Trevor Michelson served as the assistant coach. Afterwards, he found a job that allowed him to continue his passion for the sport as an assistant to women’s rowing head coach Nancy LaRocque.
Once the lightweight rowing team was reinstated, Michelson regained the position of head coach for the men’s lightweight rowing team. Michelson spoke on what this position means to him.
“I’ve known most of these guys since they were 17 — I’ve seen them grow as people and work through the adversity of getting the team cut,” Michelson said. “The privilege of my life has been being entrusted to lead this group of guys, and for them to just trust me through the process is really special.”
The men’s lightweight rowing team received support from the alumni network during the initial disbandment of the team, with men’s lightweight rowing co-captain Chris Stitch ’23 describing this team as “really special..”
“There was a big outpouring of alumni support and big email chains with all former lightweight rowers from Dartmouth,” Stich said. “A lot of them really wanted to get involved and they formed … almost a committee.”
Despite the lightweight rowing team being dismantled, the team actually became closer during this time.
“I knew I had great friends that really cared about me, and I had a great network still there,” Stich said. “I think we bonded in just knowing how … important the team was. And I don't think we ever lost our spirit and camaraderie.”
Even though the administration cut the rowing season short in 2020, the lightweight rowing team did not let this bring down their spirits, according to Stitch. Together, they successfully qualified for the World Rowing Championships, which is “pretty rare” to do with a team of athletes who all attend the same school, Stitch said.
Swim and Dive
The women’s swim and dive team did not only receive support from the alumni network, but also from Olympians. It was also not the first time the team had been cut.
“There were several swimmers prominent in the swim community that publicly said this is wrong,” Christina Cianciolo ’23 said. “Not only the Olympians, but a lot of my swim friends back home and a lot of swimmers always reposted our stories, commented a lot on different articles, things like that. So there was a lot of support from a lot of different people.”
On the men’s swim and dive team, athletes were discussing transferring schools, according to Tim Cushman ’23.
“People talked about [transferring] and looked into it, but when the team got brought back, the few individuals who were thinking about it decided not to,” Cushman said.
Unlike the golf teams, the swimming and diving team had a complete coaching staff turnover.
“We had a full coaching change, so all of our coaches left, and we got two new assistant coaches and a new head coach,” Cushman said. Cushman added that he believes the members of the team bring much more to Dartmouth than their athleticism.
“The individuals on the team bring a different perspective to Dartmouth and bring just a different lens to look through things.”
While the team cuts did not give Cianciolo the best impression of the College, she also expressed the lessons she learned from the cut, and later the reinstatement.
“It definitely created a distasteful image of the College in terms of who and what they prioritized, especially over the pandemic,” Cianciolo said. “It was an extremely tough time, especially because of the fact that everyone was scattered … But I think, overall, it taught me a lot about perseverance and patience.”