George Washington Women’s Water Polo One of Seven Sports to be Cut After 2020-21

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George Washington's Juliette Belanger. Photo Courtesy: George Washington Athletics

George Washington University has made the decision to cut seven varsity sports after the 2020-21 school year, meaning athletes in those sports will have one more year to compete at the university, including women playing George Washington water polo.

The affected sports are women’s water polo, men’s rowing, sailing, men’s and women’s squash, men’s tennis and men’s indoor track and field.

George Washington is part of the Atlantic 10 Conference, which already announced all fall sports will be pushed to the spring and all classes at GW will be online. None of the seven sports are fall sports.

George Washington women’s water polo reached new heights this past spring as Alana Ponce was the first Colonial to earn All-America honors from the Association of Collegiate Water Polo Coaches.

She earned Honorable Mention recognition after posting 45 goals and 18 assists over 12 games before the season was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Below is George Washington’s open letter on the subject in full:

At GW, athletics is one of our most visible displays of discipline and excellence. For more than a century, our Athletics Department has helped to develop countless student-athletes who are role models in competition and in the classroom, and they have served as leaders on our campuses and beyond. Rooting for the Buff and Blue has long brought our community together to celebrate one another and our GW spirit.

Over the years, GW Athletics has grown considerably. We have added several sports and greatly expanded the number of student-athletes we support. Today, with more than 500 student-athletes in 27 varsity intercollegiate programs, GW sponsors more programs than any of our peers in the Atlantic 10 Conference. Although we value the breadth of our offerings and the opportunities they have created for many, they have increasingly strained resources, limiting support across all programs and creating growing financial concerns. 

Given the importance of our commitment to providing a world-class student-athlete experience and supporting our teams in achieving at the highest levels of excellence, during this past year GW leadership undertook a comprehensive review of our programs. By the spring, this work had become imperative, as we strained to manage the current and projected financial impacts of COVID-19, which this fiscal year will create a significant gap between expected revenues and expenses of at least $200 million.

Having now concluded our review of all programs and with the urgency caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, we are writing today with difficult news. In consultation with the Board of Trustees and GW leadership, we have determined that we must reduce our athletics teams from 27 to 20, effective at the conclusion of the 2020-21 academic year. The non-NCAA sports of men’s rowing, sailing, men’s and women’s squash, and the NCAA sports of men’s indoor track, men’s tennis and women’s water polo will have the opportunity to compete in their upcoming 2020-21 seasons, if it becomes safe to do so, but they will be discontinued at the conclusion of their respective seasons. We have already informed the impacted student-athletes of this news, and provided that there is suitable student interest and self-sustaining financial support that ensures health, safety and well-being, we will support these programs in their transition to club sports.

We understand how disappointing this is for many in our community, especially for the students whose GW athletics careers will be shortened, for our coaches and support staff, and for the alumni who helped build these programs. We also recognize the additional burden caused by the timing of this decision, when many are experiencing the uncertainty and stress of the pandemic. Still, we felt it important to talk directly with those affected to provide as much flexibility as possible to plan for the coming academic year and beyond, and to communicate transparently with our broader community. As hard as this decision was, we believe it is necessary to strengthen athletics and position our programs for future success with the resources we have.  

We are committed to caring for those affected through this transition. All existing athletics scholarship aid will continue to be awarded to the affected student-athletes through their graduation at GW. We hope that our students continue their education at GW. However, should any student-athletes from the affected teams choose to transfer to another institution, we will support them in every way possible. We will also provide mental health and other counseling resources throughout the year.

Our student-athletes who have represented the Buff and Blue over these many years have helped to build a deep and lasting legacy of achievement during their time at GW, and their history will always be honored and celebrated within the GW Athletics family and our GW community.

Discipline and Excellence
Our charge for discipline extends to being prudent stewards of GW resources. We needed to optimize our available resources and allocate them appropriately to build and sustain excellence in athletics. By supporting fewer programs, we will be better equipped to provide a world-class student-athlete experience, and our student-athletes will have greater access to important resources, such as strength and conditioning, sports medicine and academic assistance.  

During our review process, we considered many options to sustain all varsity teams, including increasing ticket sales, philanthropic support and corporate sponsorship. However, it is impossible for these areas to produce the funding necessary to achieve the long-term success that our students, alumni, and supporters deserve.

We believe this path will secure a more sustainable financial future that will allow GW Athletics to better fulfill its mission. We also are mindful that while we do not expect to take additional action at this time, it could be necessary if the COVID-19 pandemic and the financial impact worsen.

Comprehensive Review
We made these decisions after a principled process in which all of our programs were reviewed comprehensively. We considered, in part, impact on gender equity and Title IX compliance, sponsorship at the NCAA Division I level, history of the sport at GW and prospect for future success, engagement level, expense savings and other factors.

GW Athletics in the Future
GW Athletics has been and will remain one of our university’s most important drivers of school pride, spirit, and engagement.

We are confident that these changes, while difficult, will allow us to move forward with organizational and financial resiliency, greater agility and success in our demanding pursuits.  We will enhance the recruitment and retention of our student-athletes, better support them in achieving the highest levels of success, and improve club sports opportunities for all students. 

All of our programs have contributed to the proud history of GW Athletics and the strong position we are in today. Moving forward, we are committed to continuing to strengthen GW Athletics as our visible display of discipline and excellence far into the future.

Sincerely,

Thomas J. LeBlanc, President

M. Brian Blake, Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs

Mark Diaz, Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Tanya Vogel, Director of Athletics

More news involving George Washington water polo and other college sports affected by COVID-19 here.

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