Tyler Eischens was at home in Andover late Wednesday morning, wrapping up lunch, when the news blast hit: Stanford announced it was discontinuing 11 varsity sports in response to growing financial challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Among those teams being eliminated is Eischen’s wrestling squad, after he went 21-9 as a redshirt freshman last season and qualified for the NCAA tournament.
“We had no clue,” Eischens said. “We got an e-mail this morning that said there is an athletic meeting in about 20 minutes. That’s when the coaches first knew. We had a Zoom meeting, and that’s when the news dropped. I’m just in disbelief, shock. I don’t know what to think.”
Stanford’s decision to drop 11 sports comes as colleges and universities across the country are facing similar decisions to drop nonrevenue sports. It was the second university to end its Division I wrestling program, following Old Dominion.
Before the announcement, Stanford had 36 varsity teams, tied for second most in the NCAA (with Princeton and Brown) and behind only Harvard, which has 40. By comparison, the Gophers have 23 varsity teams.
“The financial model supporting 36 varsity sports is not sustainable,” Stanford’s announcement stated. “The average Division I athletics program sponsors 18 varsity sports. Many of our peers at the Power Five level are supported by budgets that are much larger than ours while operating far fewer sports.”
Other sports being eliminated at Stanford are men’s and women’s fencing, field hockey, lightweight rowing, men’s rowing, coed and women’s sailing, squash, synchronized swimming and men’s volleyball.
Qualifying for the 2020 NCAA tournament was one of Eischens’ long-range goals, especially since it was set to be held at U.S. Bank Stadium. The pandemic spoiled that, too.
“Getting NCAAs canceled when it was in my own backyard, that was disappointing,” he said. “And then not being able to train for that long, it was weird.”
Eischens, who won an MSHSL individual state championship wrestling for Anoka in 2017 and lost in a highly anticipated Class 3A 152-pound final to Shakopee’s Alex Lloyd in 2018, had only recently resumed training.
He had gone roughly three months without going up against an actual opponent after the season’s cancellation, calling the layoff “the longest since I started my high school career, maybe longer.”
Eischens has been training with the Minnesota Storm Greco-Roman wrestling club for about three weeks.
“It’s been really good for me physically and mentally to get back on the mat,” he said.
Stanford said elimination of the 11 sports will not take place until after the 2020-21 season, assuming concerns about the pandemic are resolved. Eischens is certain he’ll be back for one more season as a Cardinal.
“It’s tough to deal with because this was one of the best teams Stanford has ever had. Last year, we had five guys make the NCAA tournament and four of them were freshmen,” he said. “This season was probably going to be the best iteration of Stanford wrestling since it went to the Division I level.”
With the news as fresh as it was, Eischens said he’d had very little chance to talk things over with teammates, but he said they don’t understand the decision from a financial perspective.
“It’s not an expensive sport. All we need are shoes and a mat and we’re good to go,” he said. “Give us a place to sleep and a way to get there and we can compete anywhere.”
Once the upcoming season is over and the sport is officially eliminated, Eischens will be faced with another dilemma: Transfer to another school and continue his collegiate wrestling career or remain in Palo Alto and pursue a degree in computer science.
“We were told that if we stay at Stanford, we’ll continue to receive whatever athletic aid we’ve been getting until we graduate,” he said.
“I’m not ready to end my wrestling career, but a degree from Stanford is an amazing opportunity. It’s not an easy choice.”