The four members of the Iowa women’s swimming & diving team that are suing the university over the decision to cut the team have shown that they’re in for the long haul, posting a $360,000 bond required by Judge Stephanie Rose, the Des Moines Register reports.
Judge Rose then granted an injunction preventing the school from cutting the women’s swim team in December. According to the Register, the school asked the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn the injunction on Jan. 22, indicating this will likely be a lengthy legal process.
The $360k bond, which will be set aside to cover any costs the university incurs while it keeps the team afloat (should the school prevail in the case), is essentially the swimmers’ way of saying that they’re not going to go away, even when their collegiate careers are done.
“It’s basically ‘put your money where your mouth is’ because they don’t want the people who brought the class action to just drop out when they’re out of eligibility,” Barbara Osborne, a sport management professor at North Carolina, told the Des Moines Register. “If you’re going to litigate this, then we want to know you’re in for the long haul.”
In the Register’s lengthy investigative report, several sports gender equity experts told them that it appears the university is fighting a losing battle. We’ve already seen multiple women’s swimming & diving programs that were cut over the last year get reinstated because of Title IX lawsuits, including Dartmouth College which was announced on Friday.
The four Hawkeye swimmers that filed the lawsuit are Kelsey Drake, Christina Kaufman, Sage Ohlensehlen and Alexa Puccini. Their attorney, Jim Larew, simply wants the school to show its math regarding the Title IX requirements, per the Register, but they have declined to turn over its list of athletes, something the judge was also “frustrated” by.
Title IX requires schools to provide athletic opportunities for women at an equal rate to their representation in the undergraduate student population, with two percentage points of leeway. The female undergrad population at Iowa in 2020-21 is 55%, meaning that roughly 424 of the school’s 800 student-athletes need to be women in order to be compliant.
Judge Rose granting the injunction moves Larew one step closer to securing a full trial, where he would be able to take a closer look at Iowa’s rosters. He also told the Register that he questions whether all 94 rowers and 130 track & field athletes are receiving equal opportunity in terms of coaching and a real chance to compete at the varsity level.
Iowa’s Associate Athletic Director for Compliance Lyla Clerry said her office closely tracks weekly participation among athletes, and that the only reason the rosters haven’t been turned over is because they contain protected student education records. This leads Larew to wonder why Iowa simply can’t redact the education records and provide the info the court is seeking.
Osborne pointed to a 2013 case against Quinnipiac University, where the school padded female numbers by listing members of the cross country and track & field teams on both rosters when the majority only competed in one discipline.
“If you are padding your women’s roster so that the total number that you’ve padded would easily allow you to add a women’s team, the court expects you to add a women’s team,” she told the Register.
Quinnipiac ended up losing the case, restoring the sport in which the case was centered on — women’s volleyball — while adding women’s golf and rugby as well.
The Iowa swimmers filing the lawsuit hope for the same, as they’re looking to add another women’s program in addition to reviving swimming & diving. If that comes to fruition, it will be up to the Athletics Department to decide what that sport is, but Larew did list wrestling and rugby as “emerging” sports in the lawsuit.
Many say cutting a women’s sport was particularly risky for Iowa athletic director Gary Barta, who was centered in a $6.5 million settlement in 2017 for discrimination, as the university seeks a replacement for retiring president Bruce Harreld who publicly backed him.
Until the matter is resolved, Judge Rose’s injunction stands and the university will “maintain the program and provide staffing and benefits,” the school said in a statement.
“Our commitment to gender equity and our student athletes remains strong. We are proud of our women swimmers.”
As it currently stands, about one third of the roster has opted to transfer to a new school for next season, while several more have scholarship offers and are waiting on the results of the lawsuit. Coach Marc Long told the Register he’s been unable to recruit amidst the uncertainty, while also working without four members of his coaching staff.
Iowa won its first and only home dual of the season on Jan. 16 against Nebraska (in what may be its last home meet ever), and fell on the road last weekend against both Northwestern and Penn State.