Supporters of William & Mary men’s swimming are about to make an offer they hope university administration cannot refuse: Financial self-sustainability.
Their belief that they can fund a majority of men’s swimming program expenses, short and long term, is buoyed by more than $2 million in pledged donations during a period of about 24 hours beginning Sunday morning.
Supporters hope the demonstration of financial muscle convinces interim director of athletics Jeremy Martin and others in W&M administration that nixing the planned elimination of men’s swimming is not only ethically wise, but a smart financial move.
Men’s swimming is one of seven teams the school announced on September 3 it would be cutting because of athletic department budget deficits. The three women’s sports slated for elimination, swimming among them, were reinstated to avoid a Title IX gender equity lawsuit.
Spearheaded by the “Save Tribe Swimming” group, supporters of men’s team reinstatement garnered $1.2 million in pledges in about a week during September as proof of the program’s financial viability. This recent effort, group members say, follows meetings with Martin at which he indicated it would be helpful, as he and administration considered possible reinstatement, for the program to provide evidence of long-term budget sustainability.
Save Tribe Swimming, which has secured donation pledges from about 1,000 people, hopes to raise another $1 million or so in the next few days as the school’s final decision on reinstatement nears. The more than $3 million in pledges since September, and the program’s endowment of more than $3 million, already prove the program’s ability to self-sustain, Save Tribe Swimming executive board member Matt Crispino said.
“It became clear as this process went on that we not only needed to have some up-front money, but we needed to have kind of a long-term plan for financial sustainability - especially given the current budget crisis William & Mary claims to be in the midst of,” said Crispino, a former Tribe swimmer and program coach (2007-19) now coaching Princeton’s swimmers. "We surveyed everyone who had made an initial pledge to see what they could do over five years.
"We want to fund the program in the short term and strengthen the endowment over the long term to ensure the team can exist in perpetuity and be funded. So far the response has been amazing.
“People are very eager to not only give, but give over an extended period of time. People have designated a willingness to put (W&M swimming) in their estate plans as well, so we’re very encouraged by the last 24 hours.”
Crispino feels supporters of men’s swimming have now met each of the three requirements Martin outlined as precursors to possible reinstatement: a path to gender equity, competitive excellence and financial sustainability.
Crispino said the vast majority of those pledging are doing so only if the school fields men’s and women’s swimming teams. Thus, he added, reinstatement of men’s swimming will actually lessen the financial burden on the athletic department, which would otherwise have to foot the bill for most of the women’s program.
Former Tribe swimmer David Hildebrand said that it is curious that some programs not affected by cuts haven’t been asked to demonstrate their financial sustainability. Nonetheless, he, like Crispino, is thrilled at the positive response of W&M swimming supporters to the challenge since Sunday.
“It’s amazing,” he said. “It would seem quite foolish for the administration ignore so many individual donors contributing so much money in such a short period of time to a cause that has only brought positive publicity to the school,” he said.
The Tribe men have won six consecutive Colonial Athletic Association swimming titles, led in 2020 by All-American Colin Wright. The program has also produced 10 Phi Beta Kappa inductees, a Rhodes Scholar and donates almost $15,000 per year to the American Cancer Society, among numerous community activities.
Marty O’Brien, 757-247-4963, firstname.lastname@example.org
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