PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) ─ Months ago, 40 young athletic recruits committed to play for the Brown Bears next school year, but in May there was a surprise.
Their dreams were dashed along with the sports-related goals of about 150 other athletes after their respective sports were cut from the Ivy League school’s roster.
Skiing for Brown University was a dream come true for Madison McCarthy.
“I always wanted to go to Brown, and it wasn’t easy to get here,” McCarthy said. “It’s like they pulled the rug out from under us.”
Brown’s goal was to pare down its athletic programs and focus resources on fewer sports to hopefully make them more competitive.
Women’s skiing is one of eleven varsity sports changed to club status, joining, fencing, golf, squash, women’s equestrian, and men’s track, field and cross country.
Co-ed sailing and women’s sailing club teams were moved up, leaving Brown with 29 varsity programs.
The changes were recommended in the Excellence in Brown Athletics Initiative, based on an external review conducted during the 2018-2019 school year.
Brown President Christina Paxson said the initiative will “truly reshape” the school’s athletics.
“I know it will be difficult for many in our community to see some of their favorite teams transition to club status,” she said. “But I also expect there will be true excitement for the heightened opportunities for competitive play that all the elements of this initiative will bring to our student-athletes.”
McCarthy and many other members of the impacted teams said there was no warning about the announcement that came after the deadline to transfer to other colleges in time to compete next season.
“It’s not what they did, it’s how they did, that’s caused major concern, major suspicion,” McCarthy said. “No one knew this behind the scenes, not even coaches. I think there was just a general lack of integrity.”
David Scherrer, who just wrapped up his junior year at Brown, is a top-10 miler in Ivy League track and field and also ran cross-country.
“First emotion was shock. Then a sense of betrayal,” Scherrer said. “A sense of worthlessness in the eyes of the administration.”
The changes come amid 10 pending Title IX cases currently under investigation by the U.S. Department of Education involving Brown, dating back to July of 2014. Title IX is a civil rights law geared toward stopping sex discrimination in federally funded education programs.
Brown spokesman Brian Clark said “there are four open complaints in total but included with alleged violations listed separately.”
Clark said “as an example,” one of the complaints involved a mathematics camp “advertised for girls interested in Stem careers, which the complaint alleged was discriminatory.”
The list of cases on the USDOE website also includes a 2017 sexual harrassment complaint and sexual harrasment and sexual assault complaints opened on the same date in 2014.
“In each and every case we have provided any and all information that the Office for Civil Rights has requested,” Clark said.
Clark said Brown was in full compliance with Title IX before the sports initiative was put in play, and remains in full compliance now.
McCarthy said learning about the pending cases raises suspicion for her about the cuts.
“There are more open cases at Brown than all of the other Rhode Island colleges combined,” McCarthy said. “This is a civil rights issue. We’d like to know more about the open cases.”
Scherrer questions the decision to cut men’s track and field in order to open spots on other men’s teams.
“What does that do for other women’s teams? Nothing,” Scherrer asked. “What does it do for women’s track and field? It rips away teammates, training partners, coaches.”
Neither Scherrer nor McCarthy would say if the changes make them want to transfer to other colleges, but both said they’re determined to push for answers with the help of students and alumni.
“It’s shocking because it’s deceptive,” McCarthy said. “But on the other hand, it’s fired up our community because that’s not what Brown is about.”
So far, thousands of people have signed a petition calling to reinstate the sports.