Volleyball opponents had a tough time blocking Stanford outside hitter Will Rottman this season, but his own university intends to do just that.
Stanford announced on Wednesday that men’s volleyball is one of 11 sports that it’s planning to drop after the upcoming school year.
“We were blind-sided, the coaching staff and players alike,” said Rottman, a freshman from Santa Barbara High who ranked second in kills for this year’s Cardinal team. “Personally, I thought I had a pretty good season and felt very good about the future here… And then the world turned upside down.”
Stanford, which claimed to be facing a nearly $25 million deficit in its athletic budget, is the first school from a Power Five conference to eliminate sports because of the COVID-19 pandemic. It also cut wrestling, field hockey, men’s and women’s fencing, lightweight rowing, men’s rowing, co-ed and women’s sailing, squash, and synchronized swimming.
But men’s volleyball, which advanced to the NCAA final as recently as 2014 and won its last national championship in 2010, was the most startling cut.
“It kind of came out of nowhere, with no warning and no opportunity to save the program,” Rottman said. “It was just very quick and final.”
John Kosty, the Cardinal’s head coach since 2007, is a former UCSB All-American. He played for three Gauchos seasons (1985-87) with Rottman’s father, David.
“It was definitely shocking considering the legacy of the program,” Will Rottman said. “I don’t think they really understand the scope of what Stanford’s program means to the volleyball community as a whole.
“They said they did consider that — they tried to run down all the criteria with us — but I don’t think they realize what Stanford means to the sport.”
He said that Beth Goode, Stanford’s executive associate athletic director, indicated during a Wednesday night Zoom call with the team that “men’s volleyball might have been the hardest one for them to cut.”
“But the truth is we could easily raise the money to keep it alive for the next five years,” Rottman said. “Our alumni are super-proactive and we could potentially get a large sum of money by reaching out to them. I think our program could continue on without help from the university.
“She was there to answer our questions but she didn’t seem to have any answers to our financial questions, and that was the most frustrating thing of all.”
An online petition at change.org to reinstate the Stanford program had nearly reached its goal of 25,000 signatures by Saturday afternoon. But an open letter co-signed by the school’s president, provost, and director of athletics said they “will not consider reinstating any of the sports to Division I status even if they receive philanthropic funding.”
It leaves Rottman wondering what he should do when Stanford pulls the plug after next season.
“My major is architectural engineering and design, and that’s what I want to do with my life,” he said. “But Stanford is basically the only school that has both that major and a good Division I volleyball program that would be in contention nationally.
“I have trouble thinking about staying at Stanford to play for a club program. Volleyball is too big a part of my life to just drop it like that.”
Rottman, a 6-foot-6 outside hitter, led Santa Barbara High to three Channel League championships and a pair of CIF Division I semifinal berths. He made an immediate impact at Stanford this spring, earning All-Mountain Pacific Sports Federation honorable mention while pounding 155 kills. He ranked 12th in the conference with 2.67 kills per set and had a team-high 14 service aces.
But injuries to all three Cardinal setters, including All-American Paul Bischoff, left Stanford with a 6-11 record by the time the COVID-19 pandemic halted all play in early March. Because of the shortened season, Rottman still has four years of collegiate eligibility.
“Our libero wound up having to set us, but we got some good experience and had everyone on the team coming back,” he said. “We also had the talent coming in next year to win.
“We’re really motivated to come back and show them that we can win a national championship. We deserve the opportunity and have the talent to do so. So many things went against us this year, including this decision, that I feel something will go our way going forward.”
Rottman is training as hard as ever, beginning every morning at 7 a.m. at East Beach. His brother Alex, a junior-to-be at Santa Barbara High, often joins him.
“It’s a good group of talent down there,” Rottman said. “There’s a lot of ex-college players in town.
“If anything, all of this is a big motivator for me. I’m bummed out, but I’m hoping we can get a full team back… and hoist a national championship trophy next year to show the university the mistake they’ve made.”