Willamette to Discontinue Women’s Rowing

Willamette to Discontinue Women’s Rowing

Safety concerns prompt the closure of the Boathouse and limit feasible options moving forward.

CAMPUS ANNOUNCEMENT

Dear Willamette Community,

I'm very sorry to report that Willamette will discontinue its women's rowing program, effective immediately.

Changing river conditions and erosion have adversely impacted Willamette's Boathouse in recent years. Starting in 2010, staff members in facilities and athletics engaged in extensive research to evaluate options to replace the Boathouse or find alternative locations. For a large portion of recent seasons (including the entire 2014-15 season), our rowers haven't been able to row in or out of the facility because of river levels and currents.  Additional evidence has demonstrated that the facility may pose a risk to non-university, recreational users of the river.

Throughout the past year, and intensively over the past month, I have worked diligently with campus staff members to evaluate the safety of our rowing facilities and practice sites, while taking into consideration the long-term needs of the rowing program. In consultation with Dean David Douglass, the Faculty Athletics Representative, elected student leadership, facilities staff members and a range of others, I made the decision to close the Boathouse to rowing activities this spring due to river conditions and safety concerns.

Following this decision, I met with coaches and members of the women's rowing team to talk about safety issues and the limited options available to safely support the rowing program at Willamette.  Those discussions generated some new insights and led to investigation of additional options during the past several weeks.  Unfortunately, these options have proven not to be viable for the program's safety and storage needs given the available financial resources.

Addressing these safety concerns, finding an appropriate facility to store boats and equipment and supporting student-athletes in a high quality intercollegiate rowing program requires a significant level of investment. Ultimately, it is my responsibility to review and evaluate the best use of our limited resources to provide opportunities for student-athletes at Willamette.

As a result, the difficult decision has been reached to discontinue the program.  We have communicated with members of the team and their families to convey this decision, and we are working to find alternative ways for team members to pursue their sport with private clubs in the area.  We are also working with the coaches affected by this decision to provide all the support possible.

Among the important implications of this decision is the loss of opportunities for women athletes.  For this reason, the University's Title IX Officer has been involved in the process from the beginning, and consideration of equity issues has been a vital aspect of virtually all the discussions held.  Both Willamette's commitment to providing opportunities in varsity athletics for women and our obligation to comply with federal Title IX requirements compel us to add new options.  Beginning immediately, I am looking into alternative sports for women that will provide expanded opportunities. I will review regional and national trends in intercollegiate athletics, as well as the results of the interest survey of women on Willamette's campus conducted this spring, to determine the best option for our community and the Northwest Conference. More detailed information regarding this process and timeline will be available by the beginning of the fall term.

I recognize this is disappointing and saddening news for many, but I am hopeful that we can move forward as a community to continue to strengthen our athletic programs and support our student athletes.

Sincerely,

Valerie Cleary
Director of Athletics