The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa on Tuesday granted an injunction preventing the University of Iowa from dropping its women’s swimming & diving program for the 2021-2022 school year.
The decision, made by Judge Stephanie Rose, came after a two-day hearing where four current members of the Iowa women’s swimming & diving program are arguing that the university is violating Title IX rules, and that this summer’s announcement that they would cut the women’s swimming & diving program only exacerbated that problem.
The school also announced that they would cut the men’s swimming & diving team, men’s gymnastics team, and men’s tennis team at the end of the 2020-2021 school year. Those men’s teams are not impacted by the injunction.
The plaintiffs, Freshman Alexa Puccini, sophomore Christina Kaufman, senior Sage Ohlensehlen, and senior Kelsey Drake argued that a preliminary injunction was needed to prevent irreparable harm if plans to cut the team move forward. Four of the team’s six coaches have taken new jobs already, and 15 of the 35 members of the women’s team have announced decisions to transfer next semester or next year. At least four others are currently in the NCAA transfer portal.
Among the individuals called to testify were a former University of Texas athletics director Donna Lopiano, who in an analysis says that the University of IOwa failed to meet Title IX’s Prong One participation requirement requiring male and female athletes with athletics participation opportunities proportional to the percent of males and females in the undergraduate student population.
The school rejected in a statement earlier this year that they were in violation of Title IX guidelines, saying that an Office of Civil Rights review in 2019 found that the school had no violations in the 13 categories of Title IX. Further, the school’s statement included mention that the cuts would impact more male student athletes than female (64 vs. 38) and result in the loss of more male scholarships than female (20.7 vs. 14).
“When you’re riding as close to the Title IX compliance line as the university has been…when a crisis hits, options become pretty limited,” Rose said in making her decision.
Earlier this month, Rose denied a request for a temporary restraining order, saying that the plaintiffs hadn’t sufficiently proven that moving forward with the cuts would do irreparable harm to the athletes, but did agree that the lawsuit was time sensitive and set a hearing for this week.
The injunction is a temporary solution that will bring a temporary stop to the process of cutting the program, but it is not a full vindication of the athletes’ claims that cutting the women’s swimming & diving program would be detrimental to the school’s Title IX compliance. The case will continue as the female student-athletes seek to have the university reinstate the teams and add additional sports for women.
The school says that it had to cut programs to reduce costs caused by the impact of the global coronavirus pandemic. The school estimates its budget took a $55 million to $65 million hit because of COVID-19