Facing a lawsuit for planning to reduce the number of games for all sports except football violated Title IX, the Florida High School Athletic Association’s Board of Directors voted unanimously earlier this month to rescind the measure.
“It does not do us any good to save money, and turn around and spend it on court costs,” said Roger Dearing, the FHSAA’s Executive Director, told the media. “What we did in April, we thought at the time was the right thing to do. And what we did today, we thought was the right thing to do.”
Last April, the FHSAA voted to cut varsity schedules by 20 percent and sub-varsity schedules by 40 percent in a bid to lessen the financial burden on schools districts and their athletic programs.
However, the Florida Parents for Athletic Equity, a gender equity group, was quick to respond, arguing in a lawsuit that the FHSAA violated Title IX because football and varsity cheerleading were excluded from the cuts.
The FHSAA moved to dismiss the suit in June, arguing, in essence, that football should be considered a coed sport because of the presence of cheerleading.
The Board’s most recent decision was timely as the U.S. Department of Education filed a motion in federal court to join the case on behalf of the plaintiffs.
Nancy Hogshead-Makar, one of the attorneys representing the plaintiffs and a member of the FHSAA Hall of Fame, believes the FHSAA may have missed the point in the litigation.
“The Executive Director of the FHSAA has repeatedly stated that ‘changes to Policy 6 had nothing to do with gender,’” said Hogshead-Makar, who is currently involved in settlement talks. “The FHSAA’s press release stated that the only reason they reversed course was to avoid paying litigation fees, not because their policy violated the U.S. Constitution, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, or the Florida Educational Equity Act.
“Decision-makers must become aware of the role of civil rights laws play in their planning decisions, in good times and in bad, and I’m afraid Florida has yet to learn that message. Sports, as run by high school athletic associations, is an educational opportunity, the overwhelming bulk of which is paid for with our tax dollars. As part of a child’s education, those opportunities must be shared equitably. It is not a novel idea.
“We identified several other areas where the FHSAA is out of compliance with gender equity laws. It will be interesting to see whether the FHSAA is amenable to education on these issues, or whether it will take litigation to make the changes.”
Other parties weren’t happy with the FHSAA’s decision, no matter the rationale.
Some superintendents, however, threw caution to the wind and decided that there may be more inequity in the wake of the Board’s decision.
Tim Wilder, superintendent of schools for Gulf County and the board of directors’ president-elect, suggested that “we’re going to have 67 districts making 67 different decisions on what’s best for their athletic departments and cut the games on their own. To me, that’s inequity, because when you’re looking for a state champ, and one team has played 25 games and another has played 20, that isn’t fair.