College avoids Title IX infractions, reveals plans of further athletic equity

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JAMIE HOLT / THE FLAT HAT

The College of William and Mary has laid out a plan which they say will ensure that the decision to cut the women’s gymnastics, volleyball and swimming teams is in compliance with Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. However, they may still be facing a class action lawsuit on behalf of female athletes.

Sept. 23, attorney Arthur Bryant sent College President Katherine Rowe a letter detailing the allegations concerning the College’s violation of  the athletic regulations of Title IX.

“I and my co-counsel have been retained by members of the women’s varsity gymnastics, volleyball, and swimming teams to prevent their teams’ elimination and, if necessary, pursue a class action lawsuit against William & Mary College for depriving women athletes and potential athletes of equal opportunities, athletic financial aid, and treatment in violation of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972,” Bryant said in the letter. “Please respond to this letter as soon as possible and, in any event, no later than next Wednesday, September 30, 2020.”

Bryant said that the College responded to his letter around 5 p.m. Sept. 30. In this letter, which was obtained by The Flat Hat through the Freedom of Information Act, University Counsel Carrie Nee claimed that the controversial decision to discontinue seven varsity sports teams was partially motivated by Title IX concerns.

“As you noted, the reduction of sports alone will not accomplish the goal of Title IX compliance.”

“The decision to reduce sports offerings was necessitated in part by a recognized need to ensure that the overall athletic opportunities offered to men and women are substantially proportionate,” Nee said in the letter addressed to Bryant. “As you noted, the reduction of sports alone will not accomplish the goal of Title IX compliance.”

Nee also told Bryant in the letter that the College plans to move closer to Title IX equity by adding eight athletes to the women’s lacrosse team and 11 athletes to both the indoor and outdoor track teams, as well as pursuing more moderate expansions of the women’s basketball, field hockey and golf teams. Additionally, Nee said that the College plans to make reductions to the size of men’s athletic programs, but she only specifically mentioned football.

Included in Nee’s letter was a spreadsheet detailing the College’s projected 2021-22 athletic participation broken down by sex. According to this spreadsheet, the College expects athletic participation to be 56.81 percent female and 43.19 percent male by the 2021-22 season. The College’s undergraduate enrollment for the 2019-20 academic year was 58.07 percent female and 41.93 percent male, so Nee said in the letter that the projected athletic participation numbers are “substantially proportionate” to enrollment numbers, as legally required by Title IX.

Included in Nee’s letter was a spreadsheet detailing the College’s projected 2021-22 athletic participation broken down by sex.

“Although preliminary data indicate that there will be no significant movement in the enrollment rate for the 2020-21 year, William & Mary is prepared to make further participation adjustments if needed to achieve Title IX compliance,” Nee said in the letter.

In addition to the Sept. 30 letter, Nee met with Bryant and Senior Associate Athletics Director for Student Services Tiffany Christian Oct. 7 to discuss the Title IX implications of the team athletics cuts. Bryant said that it was a productive meeting but that he is planning to collect more information before deciding if he needs to sue.

“We have to do our due diligence and make sure what the facts are before we can decide for sure whether to sue or not.”

“We have to do our due diligence and make sure what the facts are before we can decide for sure whether to sue or not,” Bryant said. “So, all we’re doing right now is finding out the facts to determine for sure whether we believe William & Mary is in compliance, as it’s telling us.”

Bryant also emphasized that he hopes this matter can be resolved without litigation, but that his decision on whether to sue will be largely dependent on the school reinstating the women’s gymnastics, volleyball and swimming teams.

“To be clear, we are going to try to resolve this out of court, because we are asking the school to reinstate the three women’s teams. But if it doesn’t, we are still thinking we’re going to have to go to court.”

“To be clear, we are going to try to resolve this out of court, because we are asking the school to reinstate the three women’s teams,” Bryant said. “But if it doesn’t, we are still thinking we’re going to have to go to court.”

Bryant said that he is expecting to reach a decision on litigation early this week.