College reinstates cut women’s varsity teams

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The College of William and Mary announced the reinstatement of three women's varsity sports Monday, Oct. 19. JAMIE HOLT / THE FLAT HAT

In an Oct. 19 press statement, the College of William and Mary announced the reinstatement of three women’s varsity sports teams that had previously been scheduled for elimination after the 2020-21 academic year. The decision follows several weeks of legal instability for the College, which faced a potential class action lawsuit alleging that the cuts may constitute a Title IX violation.

Interim Athletics Director Jeremy Martin Ph.D. ‘12 MBA ‘17 announced the decision in an email to student-athletes, coaches and staff. His message to students came less than two weeks after he succeeded former Director Samantha Huge, who resigned from the department amid outcry of how she handled Sept. 3’s announcement.

“On September 3, the university announced the discontinuation of seven NCAA Division I sport programs,” Martin said in an email. “After further review conducted in response to an impending lawsuit, it was determined that the discontinuations and related roster adjustments for remaining sports were not likely to accomplish the goal of equity in participation by next fall. Therefore, as interim athletics director, I recommended to President Rowe, who affirmed, that women’s gymnastics, women’s swimming and women’s volleyball will continue as NCAA Division I sports, and we look forward to seeing these programs thrive. In addition, we will undertake a gender equity review in the current year, creating broad opportunities for members of the community to engage.”

After further review conducted in response to an impending lawsuit, it was determined that the discontinuations and related roster adjustments for remaining sports were not likely to accomplish the goal of equity in participation by next fall. … I recommended to President Rowe, who affirmed, that women’s gymnastics, women’s swimming and women’s volleyball will continue as NCAA Division I sports.

With Martin’s announcement, women’s varsity gymnastics, swimming and volleyball return to the College’s Division I offerings. Their teams were under threat of suspension for less than eight weeks until the decision was reversed.

When Tribe Athletics declared its intention to cancel seven varsity sports in early September, students and community members began rallying to reinstate the sports through fundraising and protesting. As criticisms of Tribe Athletics’ leadership mounted, concerns over the cuts’ ramifications for female athletes also gained steam, and ultimately culminated in conversations about the College’s Title IX adherence. Title IX guidelines stipulate that male and female students should have equitable access to varsity sports participation, and the proposed cuts’ impacts on athlete involvement were unclear.

Some students affiliated with the three cut women’s teams — swimming, volleyball and gymnastics — enlisted legal counsel from attorney Arthur Bryant, who has previous experience lobbying on behalf of female student-athletes at universities implementing similar athletics cuts.

The College had until Sept. 30 to reply to Bryant’s initial letter warning the university of potential legal action. The university responded in early October by proposing modest increases to team rosters on the women’s varsity lacrosse and track teams, while also acknowledging the potential for more shifts dependent on developments with the case. Bryant said that he would seek litigation against the College unless they fully reinstated the suspended women’s teams, though he indicated his preference for resolving the issue out of court.

While the decision is a significant step forward for female student-athletes, it is unclear how representatives from the other four cut sports — men’s indoor and outdoor track and field, men’s swimming and men’s gymnastics — will respond to the College’s refusal to reinstate their teams.