A federal judge has granted a motion for a temporary restraining order that will prevent the University of Connecticut from shuttering its women’s rowing program until a hearing on a preliminary injunction is held on August 2.
The impetus for the legal controversy was a decision by the university last year to cut the rowing program and three men’s sports programs. The cuts were reportedly part of a mandate for the athletics department to reduce by 25 percent the $42 million subsidy it receives from the university.
Twenty-three members of the rowing team sued, claiming the court was violating Title IX.
The court seemed to agree, finding that they had carried their burden of proof that they “will suffer irreparable harm in the absence of injunctive relief.” Further, it noted that there is a “substantial likelihood” that it will reverse UConn’s decision and allow the program to continue.
Its rationale centered on the fact that UConn isn’t providing “genuine athletic participation opportunities” to female athletes in proportion to the undergraduate student population. The court also gave great weight to the testimony of expert witness Dr. Donna Lopiano, who opined that UConn has not complied with Title IX since 2008.
“Plaintiffs have shown that it is substantially likely that UConn is not presently in compliance with Title IX’s effective-accommodation mandate, and cutting the women’s rowing team would only exacerbate that noncompliance by magnifying UConn’s disparity in athletic participation opportunities,” according to the opinion.
Meanwhile, UConn released the following statement:
“The university disagrees with the standard applied by the court in this proceeding as it is inconsistent with longstanding guidance provided by the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. UConn is enormously proud of the success of our athletics program. The University’s support for its women’s teams, as well as all of its student athletes, is longstanding and resolute.
“Nonetheless, last summer the University’s Board of Trustees made the very difficult decision to eliminate four Division I Athletic Teams, including Women’s Rowing. That decision was made following a comprehensive review of UConn’s athletic program, including its Title IX obligations. UConn used its best efforts to eliminate the fewest number of teams as possible, but there was no path forward that would permit the University to preserve the long-term viability of its athletics program in the absence of cuts.
“While the University understands, appreciates, and fully shares the significant disappointment of the student athletes, alumni and fans of all four eliminated teams, we believe that our actions in regard to Women’s Rowing and the other teams were consistent with the University’s obligations under Title IX.”