Facing potential Title IX suit, William & Mary reinstates three women’s sports

The university is forging a Gender Equity Plan to become compliant in two years and likely will need additional funding to keep some programs operating.

William & Mary avoided a potential Title IX lawsuit by reinstating three women’s athletics programs – women’s swimming, volleyball and gymnastics – that it had cut back in September over steep financial shortfalls.

The law firm Bailey & Glasser had threatened to sue the university on behalf of its clients stating William & Mary’s decision would be “depriving women athletes and potential athletes of equal opportunities, athletict financial aid, and treatment.”

The university decided to bring back the women’s programs, but not four men’s sports – indoor and outdoor track and field, swimming and gymnastics – because of the potential imbalance that it could create in the total number of athletes competing.

“This is a major victory for gender equity, everyone at William & Mary, and all who care about fairness and the law,” said Arthur Bryant of Bailey & Glasser. “The school has decided to do the right thing. The women student-athletes at William & Mary are finally going to get the equal treatment they deserve — and the law requires.”

Application, implications of the law

Title IX law states that “no person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”

Approximately 7,000 higher ed institutions receive federal funding through the Department of Education and must comply with Title IX regulations that require among other things colleges and universities not discriminate in recruiting, admissions or athletics.

According to a report in the Virginian-Pilot, despite the similar cut to teams on the men’s and women’s side, in order to reach an equitable number of athletes, 65 women would have needed to be added to maintain a level playing field. Seeing those numbers, William & Mary opted for reinstatement of only the three women’s sports.

William & Mary President Katherine Rowe and interim athletic director Jeremy Martin told their community they will commit to develop a Gender Equity Plan to become fully compliant with Title IX by the 2022-23 academic year. That not only will force the university to keep those cuts to the men’s programs but also have to look more closely at overall participating numbers. It is likely the university will need to look to add more women across other sports or make further cuts on the men’s side.

In its release, William & Mary said it also will be looking at ways to forge “a path to financial stability, for which the department must find a sustainable, long-term solution.” It said it likely will need the help of donors and the exploration of other revenue streams to make that attainable.

The bigger picture

Athletics budgets have taken huge hits at colleges and universities across the United States, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, decreasing enrollment at some institutions and the lack of attendance and ticket sales at some of the bigger events such as football games.

Even the largest institutions haven’t been immune: Ohio State reported last month it is facing a $107 million shortfall, however, it has not had to cut any programs. Many institutions have opted to let staff go first, rather than affect students or programs they take part in. Some like William & Mary, as a self-sustaining program, are facing stiffer budget challenges.

And William & Mary is not the only school facing issues over Title IX.

Several students at the University of Iowa have filed a federal complaint asking for the school to reinstate the women’s swimming and diving and also pitching to have women’s wrestlers and rugby athletes be added to the overall pool of qualifying athletes in those respective sports.

Chris Burt is a reporter and editor for University Business. He can be reached at [email protected]

Chris Burt
Chris Burt
Chris is a reporter and associate editor for University Business and District Administration magazines, covering the entirety of higher education and K-12 schools. Prior to coming to LRP, Chris had a distinguished career as a multifaceted editor, designer and reporter for some of the top newspapers and media outlets in the country, including the Palm Beach Post, Sun-Sentinel, Albany Times-Union and The Boston Globe. He is a graduate of Northeastern University.

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