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MIT to reduce the number of varsity sports offered

To members of the MIT community:

It is with regret that we write to inform you that the following eight varsity sports will no longer be offered at MIT: Alpine Skiing, Golf, Men's Ice Hockey, Women's Ice Hockey, Men's Gymnastics, Women's Gymnastics, Pistol, and Wrestling. These changes are effective at the conclusion of this academic year.

We make this decision with sadness and with great awareness of how painful it will be to many members of the MIT community. The Institute has long been proud of the uncommon breadth of sports it has been able to offer, and our student athletes, coaches, and staff have shown great passion for their programs. However, we also believe that 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.

In bringing you this news, we want to emphasize that 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. In 2000, the Department of Athletics, Physical Education and Recreation (DAPER) organized a committee to develop a strategic plan for the department. At that time, the question was raised as to the sustainability of maintaining 41 sports. Since then, every Visiting Committee (which is composed of members of the MIT Corporation and external experts, and which meets every two years) has raised the question of MIT's ability to sustain one of the largest varsity athletics programs in the United States.

The numbers are instructive: In the National Collegiate Athletic Association's Division III, which is where MIT varsity sports compete, the average number of varsity sports carried by an institution is 16. In the NEWMAC Conference, in which MIT competes, the number is 20. In the Ivy League, which resides in Division I, the number is 33. By continuing to offer 33 varsity sports, MIT is offering twice as many as the average Division III school, and will lead the nation in sponsorship at the Division III level, while remaining as committed to athletics as its peer academic institutions.

The question of the viability of maintaining 41 sports took on new urgency when the severity of the current economic downturn became clear. In December of 2008, Provost L. Rafael Reif, Chancellor Phillip L. Clay, and Executive Vice President and Treasurer Theresa M. Stone shared a plan for reducing the Institute's spending by $100 million to $150 million-10 to 15 percent-over the next two to three years. With this mandate in mind, DAPER examined all program areas and identified opportunities for reductions in each area: many of the cuts DAPER is making do not affect varsity sports.

Both by reducing its number of varsity sports from 41 to 33 and by making other budget cuts within the department, DAPER will reduce its FY 2010 budget by $485,000. This amount represents 5 percent of DAPER's FY 2009 operating-expenses budget of $9.7 million.

In deciding which sports to cut, we made use of a management tool developed in 2003 by a subcommittee of the DAPER Advisory Board comprised of coaches, student athletes, faculty, and administrative staff. The Sport Health and Vitality tool monitors the health of each varsity sport at MIT by tracking such areas as student interest, coaching turnover, availability of appropriate competition, quality and proximity of practice facilities, as well as program costs. In 2004 and 2006, the DAPER Visiting Committee of the MIT Corporation reviewed and endorsed the process, and recently, an independent consultant was employed to review the operational structure of DAPER. It too reinforced the veracity of the Health and Vitality process.

Eliminating sports that do not meet the criteria established by the Sport Health and Vitality process, rather than reducing spending in all sports, not only helps the Department meet its budget mandate, but supports the core value of excellence in all programming. At this time, assuming the economic climate does not worsen significantly, we do not anticipate any further reductions in our varsity sport offerings.

In the coming months, we will work hard to help our student athletes and alumni most affected by this decision; we are developing a method to reach out to our alumni base and will inform alumni as this plan is finalized. While there can be no complete substitute for the special status enjoyed by a varsity sport, there are opportunities for participation at the level of a club sport. In cases where a club sport exists, we hope that former varsity athletes will join in, and where a club sport does not exist, we will help student athletes assess the viability of creating a club team.

Since the time we publicly acknowledged the need to reduce the number of varsity sports at MIT, the question of using fund-raising to provide support for sports that are being eliminated has been raised by students, staff, and alumni. While fund-raising is an ongoing and active pursuit in DAPER, the department and MIT's senior administration urge prospective donors to help DAPER enrich and enhance its broad program by contributing to the department's overall mission. We believe that the Institute will, in the long run, be better off for the hard decisions we have made, and we ask you to support them.

For further information on this decision, including FAQs and information about the Health and Vitality process, please visit

In closing, we would like to offer our great thanks to the student athletes, alumni, coaches, and staff members who gave so much to the varsity sports we are losing today. Your hard work and dedication will forever be remembered in the history of MIT athletics.


Costantino Colombo
Dean for Student Life

Julie Soriero
Director of Athletics
Chair, Department of Athletics, Physical Education and Recreation

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