MIT to eliminate eight varsity sports including wrestling

By MIT | April 24, 2009, 9:37 a.m. (ET)

April 23, 2009

To members of the MIT community:

It is with regret that we write to inform you that the following eight varsity sports will no longer be offered at MIT: Alpine Skiing, Golf, Men's Ice Hockey, Women's Ice Hockey, Men's Gymnastics, Women's Gymnastics, Pistol, and Wrestling. These changes are effective at the conclusion of this academic year.

We make this decision with sadness and with great awareness of how painful it will be to many members of the MIT community. The Institute has long been proud of the uncommon breadth of sports it has been able to offer, and our student athletes, coaches, and staff have shown great passion for their programs. However, we also believe that a reduction in the number of our varsity sports is essential to the quality and sustainability not only of the varsity programs that remain, but also of the athletic, recreational, and physical education programs offered to the entire MIT community.

In bringing you this news, we want to emphasize that while the current global financial crisis and its severe effect on MIT factored heavily in our decision, the issue of the viability of carrying 41 varsity sports has been with us even in times of relative financial stability. In 2000, the Department of Athletics, Physical Education and Recreation (DAPER) organized a committee to develop a strategic plan for the department. At that time, the question was raised as to the sustainability of maintaining 41 sports. Since then, every Visiting Committee (which is composed of members of the MIT Corporation and external experts, and which meets every two years) has raised the question of MIT's ability to sustain one of the largest varsity athletics programs in the United States.

The numbers are instructive: In the National Collegiate Athletic Association's Division III, which is where MIT varsity sports compete, the average number of varsity sports carried by an institution is 16. In the NEWMAC Conference, in which MIT competes, the number is 20. In the Ivy League, which resides in Division I, the number is 33. By continuing to offer 33 varsity sports, MIT is offering twice as many as the average Division III school, and will lead the nation in sponsorship at the Division III level, while remaining as committed to athletics as its peer academic institutions.

The question of the viability of maintaining 41 sports took on new urgency when the severity of the current economic downturn became clear. In December of 2008, Provost L. Rafael Reif, Chancellor Phillip L. Clay, and Executive Vice President and Treasurer Theresa M. Stone shared a plan for reducing the Institute's spending by $100 million to $150 million-10 to 15 percent-over the next two to three years. With this mandate in mind, DAPER examined all program areas and identified opportunities for reductions in each area: many of the cuts DAPER is making do not affect varsity sports.

Both by reducing its number of varsity sports from 41 to 33 and by making other budget cuts within the department, DAPER will reduce its FY 2010 budget by $485,000. This amount represents 5 percent of DAPER's FY 2009 operating-expenses budget of $9.7 million.

In deciding which sports to cut, we made use of a management tool developed in 2003 by a subcommittee of the DAPER Advisory Board comprised of coaches, student athletes, faculty, and administrative staff. The Sport Health and Vitality tool monitors the health of each varsity sport at MIT by tracking such areas as student interest, coaching turnover, availability of appropriate competition, quality and proximity of practice facilities, as well as program costs. In 2004 and 2006, the DAPER Visiting Committee of the MIT Corporation reviewed and endorsed the process, and recently, an independent consultant was employed to review the operational structure of DAPER. It too reinforced the veracity of the Health and Vitality process.

Eliminating sports that do not meet the criteria established by the Sport Health and Vitality process, rather than reducing spending in all sports, not only helps the Department meet its budget mandate, but supports the core value of excellence in all programming. At this time, assuming the economic climate does not worsen significantly, we do not anticipate any further reductions in our varsity sport offerings.

In the coming months, we will work hard to help our student athletes and alumni most affected by this decision; we are developing a method to reach out to our alumni base and will inform alumni as this plan is finalized. While there can be no complete substitute for the special status enjoyed by a varsity sport, there are opportunities for participation at the level of a club sport. In cases where a club sport exists, we hope that former varsity athletes will join in, and where a club sport does not exist, we will help student athletes assess the viability of creating a club team.

Since the time we publicly acknowledged the need to reduce the number of varsity sports at MIT, the question of using fund-raising to provide support for sports that are being eliminated has been raised by students, staff, and alumni. While fund-raising is an ongoing and active pursuit in DAPER, the department and MIT's senior administration urge prospective donors to help DAPER enrich and enhance its broad program by contributing to the department's overall mission. We believe that the Institute will, in the long run, be better off for the hard decisions we have made, and we ask you to support them.

For further information on this decision, including FAQs and information about the Health and Vitality process, please visit

In closing, we would like to offer our great thanks to the student athletes, alumni, coaches, and staff members who gave so much to the varsity sports we are losing today. Your hard work and dedication will forever be remembered in the history of MIT athletics.


Costantino Colombo
Dean for Student Life

Julie Soriero
Director of Athletics
Chair, Department of Athletics, Physical Education and Recreation

from the MIT website

Like every department at MIT, the Department of Athletics, Physical Education and Recreation (DAPER) has been asked to cut its budget by at least 10-15% over the next 2-3 years. The result is a mandated budget reduction of 1.46 million dollars based on the FY09 budget. The DAPER administration has been deliberate and thorough in response to this challenge, and is exploring all options vigorously. Immediately, DAPER is deferring the purchase of capital expenses, reducing off-campus physical education courses, curtailing professional development travel, addressing revenue-generating options, scaling back printing and general operating expenses, and reducing part-time staffing and contract overhead.

Despite these initial efforts, in order to sustain the department's broad-based and diverse program, DAPER has had to consider additional and difficult cuts. In 2000, DAPER organized a committee to develop a strategic plan for the department. At that time the question was raised as to the necessity and the sustainability of maintaining 41 varsity sports. Since then, every Visiting Committee (comprised of members of the MIT Corporation and President invited external experts, which review DAPER every 2 years) has questioned whether Institute resources can sustain one of the largest intercollegiate athletic programs in the country. Current budgeting efforts, in the wake of the economic downturn have made it clear that MIT can no longer support a varsity program of the same scope and scale.

Frequently asked questions:

How does DAPER decide which sports to cut?

In better economic times DAPER was asked to review its roster of varsity teams to assess the quality and scope of the program/s offered. The Varsity Sport Health and Vitality Process was collaboratively developed to accomplish that task. As we confront these current difficult economic challenges.

DAPER sought input regarding the process of eliminating teams by meeting with the DAPER Advisory Board, the Student Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC), the DAPER coaching staff (full and part-time), the Student Life Task Force, and conducted two Town Hall meetings. With the exception of the SAAC Committee, faculty representation was present at all of the meetings. Additionally, DAPER has recently contracted external consultants to examine its operational structure. Their conclusions support the analysis to reduce sports. The consultants also concluded and endorsed the Varsity Sport Health and Vitality Process data points as a reasonable tool to assist in the process and decisions relevant to program reduction.

Will money be saved through program reductions?

As we prepare for the next fiscal year, the total DAPER budget will be reduced by $485,000.00. These program cuts will help us achieve the Institute's budget reduction mandate

How will these cuts influence MIT's standing with Title IX?

Title IX has been part of every reduction model and consideration.

If other cuts need to be made in the next two years, why cut teams this year?

The safety and welfare of our student-athletes is our primary concern. Eliminating staff positions that support our varsity programs, would negatively impact services and support for the demand and scope of our varsity teams. In addition, the DAPER budget depends on revenue from the Z Center, facility rentals and income from other related programs (summer camp, recreational classes etc) to meet our budget demands. Trying to maintain a varsity program of this size while reducing the revenue stream and support services, places DAPER in a position that may require deeper cuts in the long-term.

Should the remaining programs feel safe or does DAPER plan on dropping more programs in years two and three?

As it relates to the current Institute budget reduction mandates, we do not anticipate eliminating any other varsity programs. However, a continued downturn in the economy might necessitate further program reductions across DAPER, including additional sport reductions.

What participation opportunities exist for programs that lose varsity status?

MIT has one of the largest and most active club and intramural programs in the country. Our physical education program is open to all students as well. In some cases, varsity programs that are eliminated may have the opportunity to participate through the Club Sport process or compete through intramural activities.

Fundraising to reinstate a sport - can it be done?

A number of considerations have been factored into the consideration of sport elimination, in particular the long-standing, fundamental question of supporting 41 varsity teams. We encourage alumni support to meet the overall support of varsity programs in DAPER. If a donor were to come forward, aligned with an interest in supporting a particular program, this support would have to be considered within the context of the viability of that sport.

Can DAPER implement a "pay-to-play" concept?

As the Health and Vitality report indicates, MIT has a responsibility to support the programs at a level within the common practices and standards of varsity sponsorship. In addition the requirement of "paying-to-play", places an unreasonable burden on students, especially those with high financial need.

If all of the teams are willing to take cuts in meal money and transportation, can we avoid dropping programs?

It is the responsibility of the department to provide a safe, competitive and appropriate intercollegiate experience. The budgets of all our varsity programs have little or no excess. Across-the-board cuts will not allow us to reach our objective and would negatively impact all of our sports.

MIT student-athletes have said that the varsity athletics experience is the most valuable in the department, so why should we consider cutting varsity sports teams?

The largest share of expenses in the DAPER budget supports varsity athletics. We are compelled to consider varsity athletics in the budget equation as well as answer the long-standing issue that questions our capability to support and sustain 41 varsity programs.