Officials at Missouri State University thought for sure last winter that they had found a solution for its budget woes, which would also keep them in compliance with Title IX.
Specifically, they announced they were eliminating one women’s sports program (tennis) and four men’s sports programs, a move that would tilt the balance when it comes to scholarship opportunities offered to women versus men.
But in the increasingly Byzantine world of Title IX compliance, all is not exactly what it seems.
Now MSU is being sued by the female student athletes on the tennis team, with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union, for failure to comply with Title IX.
In hindsight, the Missouri State Board of Governors would have been better off approving one of the other “scenarios” in its meeting last December, such as the elimination of only the four men’s programs. For the plaintiffs have alleged that while MSU may be closer to satisfying the proportionality prong, they have moved away from the two other indicators of Title IX compliance – demonstrating momentum in terms of increasing opportunities for women and accommodating the interest of women on campus.
The plaintiffs are seeking an injunction that would reinstate the team and allow the head coach to continue recruiting and scheduling for the next season.
Presumably, the men’s programs that were disbanded — men’s indoor and outdoor track, cross country and men’s tennis — are gone for good. If the court denies relief to the plaintiffs, MSU will field 16 programs, which is the minimum number for Division I membership.
University legal counsel John Black told the Springfield News-Leader that “the university has complied, is complying and will continue to comply with Title IX.”
Anthony Rothert, ACLU legal director of eastern Missouri, countered, telling the paper “we are very confident (that we will succeed. Similar situations have come up around the country and we’ve overturned those.” He pointed specifically to the Colorado State softball team in 1993; the Indiana University of Pennsylvania field hockey and gymnastics teams in 1993; and the Brown University women’s gymnastics team in 1992.
MSU expects to save $350,000 by cutting the five sports.
In a statement last December, MSU President Michael T. Nietzel said “What we are trying to achieve is the proper balance – in the number of sports, in funding, in facilities, in opportunities and success for students … .
“I am convinced that we have to make some changes to achieve that balance. The university has had these discussions on and off for several years, and it’s now time to take action.”
Unfortunately for MSU, they may spend any savings they accrued in disbanding the programs on legal fees.