No so fast: Stanford spikes idea of cutting men’s volleyball, 10 other sports

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Stanford retains men's volleyball 5/18/2021-Stanford men's volleyball-Luke Turner-Will Rottman-Nathaniel Gates-Nathan Lietzke-Aidan Peters
Stanford's Luke Turner, Will Rottman, Nathaniel Gates, Nathan Lietzke, and Aidan Peters

Reports of the death of Stanford men’s volleyball, as it turns out, were premature.

Stanford reversed course and announced Tuesday that men’s volleyball and 10 other sports — men’s and women’s fencing, field hockey, lightweight rowing, men’s rowing, co-ed and women’s sailing, squash, synchronized swimming, and wrestling — will not be cut and will continue as varsity programs.

The men’s volleyball team was told on Tuesday when coach John Kosty had the current players join alums for a Zoom call.

“I’m just happy right now,” libero Justin Lui said from his home in Ontario, Canada. “I can’t stop smiling.”

No wonder.

His team was told last July 8 that the school was folding the program — and the 10 others — and there was no recourse. That didn’t keep alumni and supporters of the men’s program from rallying and fundraising.

Accordingly, Stanford said in a Tuesday news release:

Stanford leaders announced today that while the structural financial challenges facing Stanford Athletics remain very real, changed circumstances including newly galvanized philanthropic interest have provided a new path to support the 11 sports.

“We have new optimism based on new circumstances, including vigorous and broad-based philanthropic interest in Stanford Athletics on the part of our alumni, which have convinced us that raising the increased funds necessary to support all 36 of our varsity teams is an approach that can succeed,” said Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne.

In recent weeks and months Stanford officials have been engaging with groups of alumni, including the 36 Sports Strong group, that have been seeking to raise private funds to support Stanford’s teams. Stanford’s 36 varsity teams represent twice the average number of teams at NCAA Division I schools, and the university made the difficult decision last July to discontinue 11 of the teams due to a growing structural budget deficit in the athletics program.

Retaining all 36 teams will require a large-scale fundraising campaign for Stanford Athletics, and “we will need to ask for the support of the Cardinal faithful like never before,” Tessier-Lavigne, Provost Persis Drell and Director of Athletics Bernard Muir wrote in a letter to the Stanford community announcing the decision.

Click here for the complete Stanford news release.

Stanford libero Justin Lui

When the players were told on the Zoom call, “there was a lot of excitement,” Lui said. “I definitely teared up a little bit when the alumni was telling us just because they devoted so much time and effort into getting the program back.

“And when they told us it just made everything feel OK again.”

Stanford, has won two national titles and finished second on three other occasions. The Cardinal won national crowns in 1997 and 2010 and lost to Loyola in the 2014 NCAA championship match. This past spring season, Stanford finished 3-14, all in Mountain Pacific Sports Federation play.

The roster included included five seniors, one junior, eight sophomores, and five freshmen.

John Kosty

Kosty just finished his 15th season as head coach. He also served as a Stanford assistant before taking over in 2007.

“For us, it’s just a whole lot of gratitude. The university and athletic department continued conversations with the 36 Sports Strong group, led by the alumni of the 11 sports that were cut, and gave them a lot of great ideas on how to create a path back,” said Kosty, who was an assistant coach on the 1997 Stanford title team and head coach when the Cardinal won it all in 2010.

“We’re thankful for the university to be able to come in and listen and to look at things differently  and be engaged, and come up with a plan that worked for everybody.”

We also spoke to former Stanford head coach Don Shaw from his home in Santa Barbara.

“I’m super-stoked for the guys and hopefully they haven’t been set back too far and have to start from scratch,” 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 MPSF player of the year.

“Probably some guys have entered the transfer portal and who knows what their status is,” said Shaw, who was with the program for four years in the 1980s, and then again as head coach from 2001 to 2006.”My hope is that they get all those guys back. It’s a fairly young team.”

Kyler Presho, a middle who just finished his senior season but can come back, said he’s in the transfer portal but hasn’t decided anything.

“Nothing but joy,” Presho said. “Once we all heard this morning all the boys and the guys that were here on campus together, we just couldn’t be happier. It was a day that we didn’t know whether or not this day would come. 

“We were certainly fighting for it to happen, but we just really didn’t know if Stanford was going to make the right decision. Finally, they did and here we are. In the past week or maybe even two weeks we started hearing rumors flying that hey, they’re considering reinstating but you never know whether that’s real or not.”

Jeremy Jacobs, who played for Stanford through 2006 and was part of the alumni group 36 Sports Strong, was also ecstatic.

“It’s an incredible day for Stanford men’s volleyball, for the volleyball community, and for Stanford athletics. This was a long time in the making and it was a hard and heavy lift,” Jacobs said from his home in in Santa Barbara.

“We’re happy we got here for the players so they can continue their careers. There were a lot of volleyball alums involved as well as alums from across the sports, the cut sports and other sports, and it’s really a testament to the Stanford athletic community and Stanford’s leadership that they were open to meeting with us and considering our proposal and finding a better way together.”

Click here for more about 36 Sports Strong.

“We’re just excited. We’re taking today, for today. It’s a great day for everybody,” Kosty said. “Our student-athletes are excited, our coaches are excited for all 11 sports. All 36 sports are excited that the university had the courage to look at the situation and found a path back.”

Stanford women’s coach Kevin Hambly, who played men’s volleyball at BYU, was also thrilled.

“It’s an exciting day for men’s volleyball,” Hambly said. “It hurt when we heard the news that we were going to lose men’s volleyball and all the teams. I’m excited for the athletes. They certainly fought hard to keep the program there and to see that pay off for them is great.”

There has to be a transition, Hambly noted.

“The challenge now will be re-integrating everybody and the healing that needs to take place with teams being cut. It’s going to take us a while to come together as coaching staffs and as a university athletic department. There’s a ton of work to be done there.

“But we’re all committed to it and eager to do it and excited about that challenge that’s in front of us.”

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.

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.

Ed Chan and Rob Espero also contributed to this story.

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