Stanford stunned the college athletics world on Wednesday when it announced it will cut 11 sports, including men’s volleyball.
Stanford, which has won two national titles and finished second on three other occasions, will still field a team in the spring of 2021, provided there is a season. The Cardinal won national crowns in 1997 and 2010 and lost to Loyola in the 2014 NCAA championship match.
Stanford, which fields 36 varsity sports, said “this is heartbreaking news to share,” in an open letter that listed in detail all of its criteria and reasons for dropping the sports it did. All scholarships will be honored after the sports are done, the Palo Alto school said.
”It’s obviously disappointing to hear that Stanford is cutting men’s volleyball, and I have to admit I’m shocked because we didn’t see it coming or hear any news prior to the announcement,” said USA and UCLA men’s coach John Speraw.
”It just doesn’t make any sense with the trajectory of our sport. I have to wonder if the decision makers, whether the athletic director or the board of trustees or the administration really understood the growth of men’s volleyball and general status of our sport.”
Speraw, who has worked hard to help grow the men’s college game in America, held out hope for Stanford to support the men’s program at a grassroots level, although in its statement Stanford said: “The decisions to reduce our sports offerings are final, and any future philanthropic interest in these sports may be directed towards supporting them at the club level, should they establish as a club sport after their 2020-21 varsity campaign. While Stanford Athletics has many tremendously generous donors, their support simply could not cover the escalating costs of ensuring excellence across the board in our 36-sport model.”
“The program wasn’t cut immediately and with the time they’re giving the program to compete next season we’ll have a chance to communicate to the decision makers that men’s volleyball should not have been included on this list,” Speraw said. “I’m hoping the alumni will step up to support whatever is needed to maintain the status of the program at Stanford University.”
AVCA executive director Kathy DeBoer, who has been on the forefront of promoting men’s volleyball, agreed.
“While this is a shock, the caveat that Stanford will support the program for another season gives us time to save this program,” DeBoer said. “It has a long and storied history and many influential supporters.”
Stanford and 14th-year head coach John Kosty finished 6-11, 2-4 in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation, in the abbreviated 2020 season. The Stanford women’s program has won three of the last four national championships.
VolleyballMag.com left a voice message for Kosty, who was an assistant coach on the 1997 Stanford title team and head coach when the Cardinal won it all in 2010, sweeping Penn State in the championship match.
“I’m shocked but then again I’m not so shocked. When you’re in men’s volleyball you know you’re on the edge all the time as far as NCAA sponsorship is concerned,” said former Stanford men’s and women’s coach Don Shaw, who won NCAA women’s titles in 1992, ‘94, ‘96, and ‘97 and whose son James played for the Cardinal from 2013-16 and was the 2016 Mountain Pacific Sports Federation player of the year.
“I know at the grassroots level it’s growing like crazy and there are more high school programs and more club programs, but never any new Division I programs because of Title IX,” said Shaw, who was with the program for four years — the last two as head coach — in the 1980s, and then again as head coach from 2001 to 2006.
“I’m not blaming Title IX — I think it’s a great thing — but if you’re not a men’s basketball or football guy and you have a son who’s playing another sport, your opportunities are going to be limited. And that’s just the way it is.
”I’m saddened. I don’t know what to do.”
The other sports being dropped are men’s and women’s fencing, field hockey, lightweight rowing, men’s rowing, co-ed and women’s sailing, squash, synchronized swimming, and wrestling.
Stanford included that the “11 sports being discontinued are sponsored by less than 22% of the more than 350 Division I institutions, and nine (men’s and women’s fencing, lightweight rowing, men’s rowing, co-ed and women’s sailing, squash, synchronized swimming, men’s volleyball) are sponsored by less than 9%.”
“I’m worried for men’s volleyball on a national level,” Shaw said, “because when a program like Stanford goes down it’s not quite the same as a Loyola Marymount or University of Pacific (which also dropped men’s volleyball programs in the past).
“Those were bad — anything’s bad — but when a program with the history of Stanford drops the sport, that’s not going to bode well for other schools that sponsor men’s volleyball where administrations are thinking about what to do.”
In its statement, Stanford wrote, “All of the impacted sports will have the opportunity to compete at the club level after their upcoming varsity seasons are complete, assuming sufficient student interest, but will need to do so in a financially self-sustaining manner that ensures the safety and well-being of the participants. We will immediately begin working with the student-athletes, parents, alumni and supporters of these sports to work toward providing robust opportunities for participation at the club level.”
“No one saw this coming,” said Mark Presho, an assistant coach at UC Irvine whose son Kyler was a junior middle blocker at Stanford this past season. “There are some other components that lend to the surprise, because the endowment at Stanford is obviously unlimited.”
A Google search shows that endowment to be $27.7 billion.
”The other thing that’s a tough pill to swallow is they have a ton of alums from the men’s volleyball program that are very successful and they never reached out to a single one of them,” said Presho, who was an All-American at Hawai’i and then had a successful pro beach career.
”It’s never a good thing when a marquee school like a Stanford gets rid of their program in our game, men’s volleyball,” Presho said. “It’s already light in terms of the number of DI schools that participate. You’ve already got things like Title IX working against you and then one of the marquee schools out of the Pac-12 that helps lend credence to the whole thing and they drop the program.”
The other Pac-12 schools with men’s volleyball are UCLA and USC. The rest of the MPSF includes BYU, Pepperdine, Grand Canyon, and Concordia Irvine.
For that matter, the other Division I schools that field men’s volleyball include Ohio State, Loyola, Purdue Fort Wayne, and Ball State in the MIVA; Penn State, Princeton, Harvard, NJIT, St. Francis, Sacred Heart, and George Mason in the EIVA; and all six schools in the Big West: Long Beach State, Hawai’i, CSUN, UC Irvine, UC San Diego, and UC Santa Barbara.