Potomac alumni at William and Mary successfully fight the cancellation of their swim team

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Annie Tuttle

W&M is just one of many academic institutions across the country that have cut Olympic sports like swimming this year to direct more athletic funds to spectator sports.

Kate Tuttle, Staff Writer

On September 3, 2020, Potomac graduates Annie Tuttle ‘19 and Diego Cruzado ‘19, both varsity swimmers at William and Mary, were packing to move into their college dorms when their phones blew up. A rumor was going around that William and Mary was about to cut seven varsity sports, including swimming.

That afternoon, in a Zoom with the school’s (now former) Athletic Director, Samantha Huge, the rumor was confirmed. Members of the Tribe swim team were shocked. 

“The athletic department and broader William and Mary administration have spent decades building a sense of home and family, and all of that hard work was demolished by a single decision that shattered the entire community,” Diego said.

The suspension of the program was particularly surprising, as the team had been highly successful recently. The men’s team was on a six year conference-winning streak and the women’s team was coming off its fifth consecutive year finishing in the top two. The previous year, five swimmers qualified for Olympic trials. 

The fight to save cut sports involved lawyers, plagiarism, faculty votes, a “resigned” Athletic Director, social media accounts, and community support.

First, AD Samantha Huge arrived late to a Zoom meeting with the seven affected teams to announce that their programs would be cut as of June 21, 2021. 

“Hearing that the family I had grown to love over the past year was to be abandoned left me feeling worthless and directionless,” Diego said. 

The meeting lasted approximately six and a half minutes and the athletes were not given a chance to ask questions.  

Later that day, the administration issued a letter officially announcing the cuts. The statement soon came under fire, as its wording was plagiarized from a Stanford Athletic Department announcement. The letter also inaccurately blamed budget shortfalls on the pandemic, when in reality they were part of a long-standing plan to increase spending on football and basketball—despite the fact that spectator sports like these are not lucrative. 98% of college football programs in the Football Championship Subdivision lose money each year. 

The cuts (which included three women’s programs), raised legally-actionable issues of gender-equity. W&M had, for years, been out of compliance with Title IX, a law that guarantees equality for female college athletes. The College would have needed to add 157 female athletes and 2.2 million dollars in funding to women’s sports. W&M cut 55 female athletes instead. Annie and several other female athletes hired a lawyer and threatened to sue the College under Title IX, resulting in the reinstatement of the women’s swimming team.

Subsequently, the powerful testimony from students and alumni resulted in the reinstatement of the men’s teams as well. The school will continue to fund both teams until at least 2021. 

“The whole community, especially the alumni, were so great. We really appreciate how hard they fought to save Tribe swimming. This experience gave the swimmers insight on how special it is to be part of the Tribe athletics family,” Annie said. 

Of all of the NCAA schools that cut Olympic sports, William and Mary is the only one that voluntarily restored its programs. 

“2020 has been a hard year in so many ways, but we are so thankful to have our team back and to continue our swimming careers at William and Mary,” said Annie.