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Local families react to Stanford athletic department cuts

Costa Mesa High volleyball standout Mason Tufuga, center, signs his letter of intent to play for Stanford University.
Costa Mesa High volleyball standout Mason Tufuga, center, accompanied by his mother Yvette and father Mai, as he signs his letter of intent to play for Stanford University on Nov. 13, 2015.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

A month ago, Eric Beatty woke up to find that he had been extended a Zoom meeting invitation on short notice.

If that was a surprise, it was nothing to how he felt after sitting through it.

Stanford University made the decision to discontinue 11 varsity sports — including men’s volleyball, Beatty’s sport — following the 2020-21 season. The announcement was made in an open letter from university President Marc Tessier-Lavigne, Provost Persis Drell and athletic director Bernard Muir on July 8.

“We now face the reality that significant change is needed to create fiscal stability for Stanford Athletics, and to provide the support we believe is essential for our student-athletes to excel,” the statement said. “In that context, we are writing today with some extremely difficult news. In consultation with the Board of Trustees, we have made the decision to reduce the breadth of our athletics programs and staffing.”

Stanford will also cut its varsity sports programs for men’s and women’s fencing, field hockey, lightweight rowing, men’s rowing, coed and women’s sailing, squash, synchronized swimming and wrestling.

“Only around two or three guys from our team actually participated in the Zoom meeting, but we were all just kind of in shock that we were blindsided with this decision,” said Beatty, an outside hitter for the Cardinal who graduated with a degree in management science and engineering this year.

Beatty, a 2016 graduate of Huntington Beach High School, said that the men’s volleyball program drafted a petition to gain support toward reinstating men’s volleyball, adding that more than 34,000 signatures had been collected so far. The program has also been engaged in fundraising efforts with the alumni as it tries to create its own endowment. Banding together with the other sports might be the best way forward.

“Through the talks that we had with the athletic director and people part of the athletic department, it became clear that they wouldn’t be able to just bring back men’s volleyball,” Beatty said. “It would at least have to be in conjunction with another women’s sport to satisfy Title IX obligations, and then there were other obligations that had to be met.

“We were kind of sensing that it wasn’t a situation where they could pick and choose certain sports just because of their popularity or just because of their alumni support to get back. It would almost have to be a situation where we created a big enough endowment to bring all 11 sports back.”

In addition to financial considerations, the national level of sponsorship of the sports factored into which sports would be discontinued. The 11 sports that were cut were all sponsored by less than 22% of the more than 350 Division I schools, the university statement said. Nine of the sports were sponsored by less than 9% of such institutions.

The Tufuga family is deeply rooted in volleyball, as Mai and Yvette first met each other on a volleyball court. Their kids, Mason and Malia, both played volleyball at Costa Mesa High School, and each has gone on to join their respective volleyball programs at Stanford.

Yvette Tufuga said she had immense gratitude to the university for accepting her two children as scholar-athletes, but she was disappointed to hear about the cuts to the athletic department.

“We feel deep disappointment in Stanford’s decision to remove men’s volleyball and 10 other varsity sports without inviting key figures of these sports [or] their alumni to troubleshoot the situation and see how our growing sport can be salvaged at such a prestigious and seemingly wealthy university,” she said. “We fear there could be a ripple effect in men’s volleyball, which continues to be more prominent on the West Coast while steadily gaining national popularity.”

Mason Tufuga, who is majoring in communications, said he saw time at outside hitter, opposite and setter while playing for the Cardinal from 2017 to 2019. After taking last year off, Tufuga is planning to play in the upcoming year.

Stanford has said that it will honor all existing athletics scholarship commitments, as well as the contracts of coaches impacted by the decision. Support staff members losing their jobs will receive severance pay.

All impacted sports will also have the opportunity to compete at the club level, provided that there is sufficient student interest and the programs can be financially self-sustaining.

Jacob Rosenberg, with hat, sails with Taylor Kirkpatrick during a Stanford practice in Redwood City on Oct. 1, 2019.
(Courtesy of John Todd / Stanford Athletics)

The Intercollegiate Sailing Assn. (ICSA) had Stanford as the No. 1 team in its coed rankings to finish the fall. The coronavirus pandemic wiping out the spring schedule turned out to be just the first blow to the program.

Jacob Rosenberg, a 2016 graduate of Sage Hill School, learned to sail at Bahia Corinthian Yacht Club. He competed for the Cardinal in college, and he also earned his degree in management science and engineering this year.

“The cuts saddened me deeply,” Rosenberg said. “This is a resilient team and program that will continue to find ways to support and fund the team, but it’s a tough blow after the [college admissions] coaching scandal last year to COVID-19 ending the season this year. Now to this news, being demoted to club after winning a national championship this year, being ranked number one when season was canceled, and having both the men’s and women’s college sailors of the year.”

Jack Parkin, who has appeared locally in the Governor’s Cup Youth International Match Racing Championships, and Michelle Lahrkamp earned the National Sailor of the Year honors, determined by the ICSA.

Sammy Pickell, a 2018 graduate of Corona del Mar High School, also competed for Bahia Corinthian Yacht Club growing up. She was named ICSA All-American crew as a sophomore.

“It does surprise me,” Pickell said of the sailing program being discontinued at the varsity level. “This year, we had our best year ever. We were number one, had two National College Sailors of the Year for the first time in program history, and won a national championship in match racing, among other successes.

“One of our alumni, Luke Muller, just recently qualified for the Tokyo 2021 [Olympic] Games. Regardless of the reasons Stanford chose in cutting sports, our team definitely didn’t have any issues maintaining athletic excellence.”

Denmark's Jeppe Borch (Royal Danish YC) leads Jack Parkin (USA) during the 53rd annual Governor's Cup.
Denmark’s Jeppe Borch (Royal Danish YC) leads Riverside YC / Stanford Sailing Team’s Jack Parkin (USA) during a 53rd annual Governor’s Cup qualifying race off the coast of Newport Beach on July 19, 2019.
(Raul Roa / Staff Photographer)

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