The COVID-19 pandemic has challenged colleges all across the country, whether they are planning how to accommodate students asynchronously or figuring out how to maximize student-body presence on campus. Still, the biggest challenge has been budget cuts, which have ultimately led to the removal of athletic teams from their rosters. According to The Washington Post, over 230 NCAA and NAIA teams were cut this past summer due to the pandemic. Athletics is an important aspect of the Deerfield experience, whether it means playing on a sports team or heading out to the fields to cheer them on. These cuts have changed the course of college paths for both prospective Deerfield college athletes and Deerfield alumni college athletes.
Amid a summer spent preparing for her team’s season, Izzy Hamlen ’20, a member of Dartmouth’s women’s swim team, received news that they were cutting the team from the roster. Hamlen recounts, “I was heartbroken. I had lost my trust in the administration and truly felt like they did not care for its students.” She added, “there are 8 Ivy League Schools–– and there are 8 racing lanes in a pool. The loss of the Dartmouth swim team diminishes the integrity of the League as a whole.” As the former captain of Deerfield’s Swim and Dive team, Hamlen understands the importance of a team experience. She stated, “being on Deerfield’s swim team made me realize that I wanted to be on a team in college. Team experiences are ultimately those that shape your college experience.”
During the heat of their efforts, Hamlen and her teammates convened weekly to discuss new approaches to their growing campaign. As a skilled photographer and graphic editor, Hamlen volunteered to be the official artist of their campaign. Hamlen spent her free time creating satirical cartoons about the situation and posting them on several social media platforms.
After a long and grueling battle against the Dartmouth administration, including the threat of a Title IX lawsuit, Dartmouth reinstated their men’s and women’s Division I swim and dive teams. As Hamlen begins practice in the pool once again, she recognizes that other cut-teams were not as lucky. “I think that the stigma surrounding college athletics and student-athletes has hurt the wrong types of sports,” she said. “We can be both students and athletes—these terms are not mutually exclusive.”
Although Dartmouth’s Swim and Dive teams have been reinstated, there are still dozens of other teams whose fates remain unknown. Brown University, for example, faced large-scale cuts over the past summer. Maddie McCarthy ‘19, a former member of Brown University’s ski team, experienced a similar situation as Hamlen.
On May 27 2020, McCarthy and her fellow ski teammates were discussing team gear orders following a successful year, finishing 3rd in the country for the slalom event. But just a day later, they were suspiciously asked to join a Zoom call. Maddie recounts, “My heart sank. We all thought, how did we go from 3rd in the country just 2 months ago, to this?”
Following the university’s decision, McCarthy became a prominent leader in the efforts to reinstate Brown’s teams. Notably, Maddie fought for all teams that were cut, not just the ski team. McCarthy single handedly retained Winston & Strawn, an international sports firm that represents pro-athletes like Tom Brady, to handle their Title IX lawsuit against the university. Maddie notes, “One of the lawyers who joined the case was an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) lawyer who fought against the Brown Athletics Department on Title IX grounds during the 1990s,” showing that Brown’s Athletic Department was no stranger to controversy. Maddie also spent time publicizing Brown’s past civil rights violations, publishing an article online with a complete history of Brown’s Title IX violations.
Despite McCarthy’s committed efforts, Brown’s ski team was not among the teams reinstated following the Title IX Lawsuit. Nonetheless, McCarthy regards the lawsuit’s outcome “a big win,” noting that a number of teams still managed to be reinstated. Following her experience, Maddie reflects, “The Brown Athletics Department showed utter disregard for student athletes; which is becoming a growing movement. People tend to believe that student-athletes are expendable and disposable, whose sole purpose is bringing in revenue for the school.”
Hamlen’s fight against the Dartmouth administration echoes the ethos that Deerfield’s athletic program instills into its athletes of valuing a strong relationship between athletics and academics–one that McCarthy believes Ivy-League administrations could take note of.
“The [Brown] administration could have avoided a lot of the stress, pain, and struggle, if they pursued their goal the correct way. You’ve got to take care of your people. That’s something that Deerfield taught me. And I continue to think about this as a college athlete with my teammates,” McCarthy said.