CSA Response to Shocking Brown University Decision to Eliminate Varsity Squash Programs

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On May 29, 2020, College Squash Association (CSA) Executive Director & League Commissioner David Poolman and CSA Board of Directors Chair John Nimick sent a letter to Brown University President Christina Paxson supporting the reinstatement of the Brown squash programs to varsity status, which has been rescinded via the newly-released Excellence in Brown Athletics Initiative. The content of that letter is shown here:

Dear President Paxson,

As the College Squash Association, the official governing body of intercollegiate squash in the United States, we are dismayed that the Brown University men’s and women’s squash programs are scheduled to be demoted to club status. We strongly urge you to reconsider. It is not clear how the rationale applied to this decision by Brown’s review committee leads to the conclusion that varsity squash at Brown should be eliminated.

The Brown Squash programs have been outstanding representatives for the University for many years, with pristine records in the classroom and on the court. If your ideal scholar-athlete is “the bright and passionate student who embraces excellence both in academics and also in their sport,” you do not have to look farther than the squash teams to meet that ideal. Earning the most CSA Scholar-Athlete Awards of any member institution last year – 11 total between both programs – and finishing ranked among the top 15 teams in the country for both genders certainly matches your quotation from the letter to the Brown community. Each program has also won the CSA team sportsmanship award in the last three years (and six times overall), an added testament to the quality of the undergraduates populating your squash teams. These accolades should be celebrated and promoted as the epitome of Ivy League Athletics, not buried as the teams’ varsity status is stripped away.

It is our understanding that the Brown Squash programs have foundational support via substantial endowments and annual giving. It seems that because of the programs’ funding structure, eliminating these varsity teams will not actually ensure that “operating funds are made available” to the remaining varsity teams. Further, if Brown Squash is currently allocated some operational dollars from the Athletic Department, would it not be reasonable to offer the program a chance to replace that allocation completely with fundraised money instead of blindsiding them with an automatic move to club status?

Citing the University’s rationale further, it is alleged that the fewer number “of varsity teams will support stronger recruiting in the admissions process.” It is our understanding, however, that Brown Squash recruits regularly exceed the Academic Index of the entire admitted class – not to mention the athletics department’s AI target – by a meaningful margin. Maintaining that buffer with varsity squash intact only serves to boost the department’s efforts to find “stronger” and “deeper” talent for the other varsity teams.

In reference to the myriad data-driven reasons for the change presented in the Athletics press release, Brown Squash already meets the standards and expectations applied to the remaining varsity teams. [Director of Athletics Jack] Hayes points to the Ivy League Principles in his remarks about valuing competitive balance, and we acknowledge Brown’s subpar record in recent League competition. He fails to note, however, that Brown Squash satisfies several other Ivy League Principles, specifically the values focused on academic and personal growth, equal opportunities by gender, wide participation for non-recruited athletes, granting admission based on academic promise and personal qualities, and normal and successful progress towards a degree. Moreover, the squash teams have a relatively small roster size, access to quality facilities, gender equity and diversity, and a strong community built on pride and collegiate loyalty, all data points recorded during the review process. This evidence suggests that a reconsideration of Brown Squash’s varsity status is in order.

We understand that enhancing the club sports program at Brown is a core part of the Initiative. What is more difficult to understand, however, is how moving squash to club status will enrich the playing opportunities for squash players on campus. The current Club Squash team appears to be co-ed, meaning there will be fewer competitive playing opportunities for many players, particularly women. Forcing squash to become a club program limits chances to compete, which goes contrary to your stated efforts. The effected squash student-athletes cannot fathom how their transition to club status will be the “University’s top priority” when the ultimate goal of the Initiative is increased competitiveness in varsity athletics, all amidst an unprecedented global pandemic.

While Brown University dedicated careful thought to the formation of the Initiative, it is disappointing that coaches, student-athletes, or governing bodies like ours were not given a chance to advocate for our sport. Brown is a valued varsity member of the CSA, a shining example, and an ideal destination for numerous junior squash players. We hope, after reading our response to your stated rationale, you consider opening a dialogue about reinstating Brown Squash to varsity status.

Thank you for your consideration and attention to this important matter.

Sincerely,

David Poolman & John Nimick