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MIT forced to cut 8 varsity sports

Budget and economy are cited as reasons

By John Powers
Globe Staff / April 24, 2009
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Massachusetts Institute of Technology dropped eight varsity sports yesterday, citing upcoming budget cuts and the growing challenge of sustaining what was, along with Harvard's, the nation's largest intercollegiate program. "We make this decision with sadness and with great awareness of how painful it will be to many members of the MIT community," athletic director Julie Soriero and Costantino Colombo, dean for student life, wrote in a joint letter.

Eliminated as of the end of the current academic year will be men's and women's ice hockey and gymnastics, plus wrestling, golf, Alpine skiing, and pistol. The reductions are expected to make up the bulk of the $485,000 cuts to the budget for the department of athletics, physical education, and recreation, roughly 5 percent of this year's $9.7 million figure. MIT plans to chop its overall spending by $100 million-$150 million over the next two to three years, approximately 10-15 percent of its total.

"A reduction in the number of our varsity sports is essential to the quality and sustainability not only of the varsity programs that remain but also of the athletic, recreational, and physical education programs offered to the entire MIT community," the letter said.

Even with 33 varsity sports, MIT will have the most of any school in Division 3, where the national average is 16, and far more than many high-powered Division 1 schools. The University of Southern California and Alabama offer 19, while Texas has 18.

Besides traditional core sports like football, basketball, baseball, and track, MIT offers a smorgasbord that includes both heavyweight and lightweight rowing, lacrosse, fencing, sailing, squash, rifle, and water polo. The school, which has an undergraduate enrollment of 4,150, also has 16 competitive club sports ranging from badminton to taekwondo to ultimate Frisbee, as well as 20 intramural sports.

"While the current global financial crisis and its severe effect on MIT factored heavily in our decision, the issue of the viability of carrying 41 varsity sports has been with us even in times of relative financial stability," Soriero and Colombo stated.

The athletic department used a "Sports Health and Vitality" gauge to determine which sports would be deleted, considering student interest, coaching turnover, availability of appropriate competition, quality and proximity of practice facilities, and program costs. Athletes from the eliminated sports will be urged to join existing club teams or form new ones. "At this time, assuming the economic climate does not worsen significantly, we do not anticipate any further reductions in our sports offerings," the letter said.