Yesterday afternoon, the Board of Managers met with the Athletic Review Committee and endorsed the following recommendations from the Committee, according to President Alfred H. Bloom:
1. To grant priority to athletic talent and interest in enrolling 10 to 15% of each entering class;
2. To reduce the number of intercollegiate sports from 24 to 21, by removing wrestling, football and badminton from the intercollegiate program, and to provide the continuing sports with enhanced coaching and support for recruiting.
The Board had planned to inform the college community of its decision during an open meeting tomorrow afternoon, but word leaked out to coaches and members of the affected teams, and a protest rally was held in front of Parrish Hall at 10:00 p.m. Saturday night.
Alex Karnal ’03, a member of the football team, opened the rally, calling the Board’s decision “arbitrary” and the Committee’s meetings “secretive.”
Boris Ephsteyn ’04 fired up the crowd, asking, “Are you just a football player? Are you just a member of orchestra? Are you just a politician? No, we’re not.” Ephsteyn went on to promise that he and others will, “fight for our right to do what we came here to do.”
As television crews from Fox News and NBC News covered the story, Siobhan Carty ’01 and Jane Ng ’01, two members of the badminton team, spoke to the crowd. The badminton team has hosted the national tournament in the past, and they sent three players there just last year.
Dave Thomas ’02, a member of the men’s rugby team, spoke about the implications of the Board’s actions on the future of the college. “If the Board of Managers can make a decision based on the recommendation of a committee that no one understands, a decision that has no transparency, what does that say for the rest of us?”
Thomas later added, “How sure are you that there’s going to be an Honors program here next year? It requires a lot of resources. You have to fly in professors, you have to have everyone here a week longer, seniors graduate a week later. Having people graduate a week earlier, surely that’s cheaper for the College, so why have an Honors program in the first place?
“Maybe because there’s something about Swarthmore – that it’s so special because we have so many different interests. You may not like every part of this campus, but the fact that it’s here, the fact that we have this diversity, is what makes Swarthmore such a special place,” Thomas added.
Josh Loeffler ’03, tight end and lifelong Quaker, stepped to the mike to point out that the Board of Managers operated against the Quaker ideals of the College by making this decision without reaching consensus. Two members of the Board of Managers resigned Saturday rather than be a part of an organization that would make this decision. One of them, Neil Austrian ’61, had been a member of the Board of Managers for nearly 25 years. Loeffler also noted that this process was conducted secretly – the Athletic Review Committee always met behind closed doors, and the decision by the Board of Managers was seen as quite sudden.
Football coach Pete Alvanos then came forward, fighting back tears. “It hurts, it hurts bad,” he said. “When you uproot your family, your wife, your three kids, your assistant coaches uproot their wives, their kids, and you look into the eyes of freshmen, high school seniors, and you tell them that the college is behind you, there’s a 100% commitment to turn this thing around, to do things the right way. And we’ve done that.
“Everything that Al Bloom has asked us to do as a coaching staff, in terms of finding the right kid, the right student athlete, because they’re students first, and athletes second – that’s what we’ve done for the last three years. And this just comes as a blind shot to us as a staff. I promise you, we’re not going quietly,” Alvanos concluded.
According to Tom Krattenmaker, Director of News and Information, the decision to eliminate these three teams was based on a desire to consolidate the athletic program, in order to achieve and maintain a standard of excellence. The rationale for discontinuing the football team stems from the impact that maintaining a competitive football program necessarily has on the composition of the student body. Money was not a decisive factor; the issue was one of making athletics work at Swarthmore, where academics is such a priority.
As the ultimate ruling authority and governing body of Swarthmore College, the Board of Managers did not overstep its bounds in making this decision. According to Bloom’s campus-wide email, the Board “deeply regretted the need to act more rapidly than anticipated, especially in reaching a conclusion so painful for many in the College community.
“They believed, however, that it was urgent to define the future of the intercollegiate program before prospective students for next year’s entering class make decisions about coming to Swarthmore,” Bloom continued.
A meeting is planned for Sunday afternoon at 3:00 in the field house. Sources say the Board of Managers and the football team will be present, as well as President Bloom and Provost Jennie Keith.
– Jeff Heckelman