Winter 2021 Issue

A Path Forward

William & Mary Athletics focuses on its future

By Dave Johnson

For the first time since World War II, there were no sporting events in the fall at William & Mary. There was, however, and continues to be, much discussion regarding the future of W&M Athletics.

On Nov. 5, President Katherine A. Rowe announced the university would pursue a phased approach to decision-making that will involve a gender equity review, the development of a long-term fundraising plan to ensure financial stability and a discussion around excellence. W&M also reinstated through the 2021-22 season seven varsity sports that had been scheduled for elimination.

Rowe’s decision came following a recommendation from Interim Athletics Director Jeremy P. Martin Ph.D. ’12, M.B.A. ’17, whom she had asked to review the Sept. 3 decision to discontinue men’s and women’s gymnastics, men’s and women’s swimming, men’s indoor and outdoor track, and volleyball.

Martin’s recommendations include completing a department-wide gender equity review before deciding which programs W&M can realistically support; setting fundraising goals for each team; engaging the W&M community in conversation about excellence; and establishing a sustainable program that will achieve gender equity for the 2022-23 academic year.

“The issues facing William & Mary Athletics, to me, continue to be in three defined frames,” Martin says. “The first is equity, and we know we will demonstrate Title IX compliance in 2022-23. The second is budget stability, and the third is excellence. How we act in those first two frames in many ways is going to determine the level of excellence we’re going to be able to achieve.

“We need to take the fullness of a gender equity review to determine how best for William & Mary to demonstrate compliance. In regards to budget stability, it became clear how many people felt they had more to give and more to do in terms of contributing.”

Martin emphasizes that William & Mary Athletics needs to raise $4 million for fiscal year 2021, $2.8 million of which needs to be in hand by March 1. Otherwise, he says, W&M Athletics will need to make “some of the painful decisions that can come from not having a stable budget that we need to move forward.”

Martin has asked each team to set fundraising goals with emphasis on scholarships and excellence funding, which includes operational expenses.

“We know we need to have a broader university conversation on excellence,” Martin says. “I really give President Rowe credit. It’s one thing to make recommendations. I think she showed real courage as a leader to say we are going to get this right. We’re going to recognize the magnitude of this challenge. And we’re going to do it in the most informed manner possible.”

On Nov. 28, W&M had its first athletic event of the 2020-21 season when the men’s basketball team played at Old Dominion University. Two days later, the team paused all activities for 14 days because of a positive test within Tier 1 personnel, defined as players, coaches, trainers and managers.

As of press time, games would not be able to resume until Dec. 14. At least five games must be rescheduled or canceled. Colonial Athletic Association games were scheduled to begin the first weekend of January.

“We will continue to work closely with university leadership and our medical personnel to ensure we are maintaining the safest possible environment for all involved,” Martin says.

The conference schedule has been altered to limit travel. Instead of the usual home-and-home roundrobin format, teams will play the same opponent on Saturday and Sunday at the same site. The exception is travel partners — W&M’s is Elon — who will play home-and-home with a day off between games.

As for attendance, Gov. Ralph Northam’s updated executive order limits sports venues to 30 percent capacity or 250 people, whichever is fewer. W&M’s plan is to allow a limited number of student-athletes’ family members to attend within strict public health protocols.

“How we can compete as safely as possible is paramount,” Martin says. “Our student-athletes’ commitment to the Healthy Together practices beyond the time they’re engaged in athletic activities is going to be one of the critical variables. We’ve appreciated their commitment to this point, and we’re going to need it this spring.”