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William & Mary Backtracks on Cutting Women's Sports

October 20, 2020
 
 

The College of William & Mary is reinstating three women’s athletics teams after it was threatened with a lawsuit over plans to cut them.

The decision is a partial rollback of plans announced Sept. 3 to cut at the end of the 2020-21 academic year William & Mary’s women’s varsity gymnastics, swimming and volleyball teams, as well as men’s varsity teams in gymnastics, swimming and both indoor and outdoor track and field. Those cuts were intended to close structural budget deficits made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic.

William & Mary maintains that the announced cuts were also designed to “begin remedying long-standing gender equity imbalances inconsistent with the requirements of Title IX.” But lawyers representing women student athletes threatened a class action lawsuit if the teams weren’t reinstated, arguing the cuts violated Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibits discrimination based on sex at federally funded institutions.

The university has also committed to create a gender equity plan and “come into full compliance with Title IX by the 2022-23 academic year to avoid being sued,” according to a news release from the law firm that threatened suit, Bailey & Glasser LLP.

“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’s office in Oakland, Calif., in a statement. “The school has decided to do the right thing: reinstate the women’s gymnastics, swimming, and volleyball teams; create a detailed plan to ensure gender equity; and commit to get into compliance with all aspects of Title IX in two years. The women student-athletes at William & Mary are finally going to get the equal treatment they deserve -- and the law requires.”

Bryant also threatened to sue the university for alleged Title IX violations in 1991.

William & Mary is still working toward “equity in participation,” it said in its own news release. That means reducing its men’s athletic program through roster management, keeping the recently announced cuts to men’s teams, boosting opportunities for women to take part in sports or some combination of those strategies.

No “clear and easy pathway” exists to reinstating the men’s programs while also making substantial progress toward gender balance in the university’s athletics, according to Jeremy Martin, interim director of athletics.

“We recognize the very substantial challenge but are committed to engaging those who bring substantive solutions,” Martin said in a statement. “Consistent with our phased approach to decision making under COVID-19, we will move swiftly to lay out the challenge and arrive at a decision for the 2021-2022 academic year.”

Martin is in charge of the athletics department after the university’s former athletics director, Samantha Huge, resigned. Huge had acknowledged that a William & Mary letter announcing the athletic program cuts drew from similar communications at Stanford University. A comparison posted by Swimswam.com, an online publication that covers intercollegiate swimming, showed numerous identical phrases between the announcements.

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