As Stanford Cuts Teams, Olympic Hopefuls All Over the U.S. Feel a Chill

There’s no emergency for men’s volleyball just yet, said Jamie Davis, chief executive officer of U.S.A. Volleyball, the national governing body for the sport. He said he was confident that volleyball would keep growing on the high school level, with more boys joining after turning away from contact sports like football, where head injuries have become a concern.

Though only about 64,000 boys played volleyball in high school in 2018-19 — compared with 1.09 million boys playing football that school year — participation had increased by 22 percent over five years, while football participation decreased by 8 percent, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations.

“The good news so far is that we haven’t seen a massive following of cuts after Stanford’s cuts,” Davis said. “But obviously these are tricky times for college sports in a world with Covid-19.”

Gerald Gurney, an assistant professor at the University of Oklahoma and former president of the Drake Group, which aims to ensure academic integrity for college athletes, isn’t buying Stanford’s excuse that the cuts were purely financially driven. If the university really wanted to, he said, it could have floated the programs through the pandemic and beyond, or accepted money raised by the sports themselves.

The cuts, Gurney said, revealed the university’s “philosophical change of direction.”

“What I see Stanford doing is developing a model more similar to any of the powerful football schools,” said Gurney, who teaches classes on athletics in higher education and ethics in intercollegiate athletics. “They want more money, so they can devote it to football and basketball and not worry about the other sports. Ultimately what seems to matter in this new era is wining in football and basketball.”

With 25 varsity teams remaining, Stanford still has a chance to win its 26th consecutive Director’s Cup, an annual award given to the university with the most success in college athletics. Not that Stanford considers it a priority anymore, Gurney said.

“I suspect that Stanford’s president decided that their Olympic approach in the long run is not going to meet the goals of the athletics department in terms of winning in revenue-generating sports,” Gurney said, explaining that the university is, after all, ultimately concerned with making money. “When it comes to winning in football and basketball, there are no moral standards. The objective is to win at all costs.”

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