In the latest development of the story surrounding Michigan State’s decision to cut its swimming and diving programs at the end of this year, members of the women’s swimming and diving team have filed a lawsuit against the university, the MSU Board of Trustees, MSU President Samuel L. Stanley Jr., and MSU Athletic Director Bill Beekman.
As detailed in the document, the swimmers have filed their lawsuit over claims that by cutting the Spartans’ swimming and diving programs (and the women’s program in particular), MSU is in direct violation of Title IX. The plaintiffs include women’s team members Sophia Balow, Ava Boutrous, Julia Coffman, Kylie Goit, Emma Inch, Sheridan Phalen, Madeline Reilly, Olivia Starzomski, Sarah Zofchak, Taylor Arnold, and Elise Turke.
The document further explains that the plaintiffs are seeking the following:
“To stop Defendants from discriminating against them and all others similarly situated now and in the future. They seek injunctive relief to prevent Defendants from eliminating the women’s swimming and diving programs at the end of the 2020–2021 academic year and to require Defendants to add women’s varsity athletic opportunities until Defendants offer equal opportunity to participate in varsity athletics free from discrimination.”
As the plaintiffs argue, by eliminating a women’s program, as well as denying female athletes equal funding and access to facilities, the university is demonstrating “intentional discrimination” based on gender. The plaintiffs go on to state that this is not MSU’s first violation of Title IX, citing the 2018 Larry Nassar scandal in USA gymnastics, in which Nassar, the former team doctor for USA gymnastics, was found guilty of sexually abusing athletes for years under the guise of medical treatment.
Other schools who have faced Title IX lawsuits include the University of Iowa and East Carolina University. A judge in the Iowa case has delayed the cut of the women’s program, while East Carolina also decided to reinstate just its women’s tennis program, but not its men’s program.
In the lawsuit against East Carolina, the plaintiffs argued that cutting women’s programs was in direct violation of Title IX, but did not mention any previous violations of Title IX made by the university. In the lawsuit against the University of Iowa, however, the plaintiffs argued that the school has been violating Title IX for years, stating that athletics at the university have been made less accessible to female athletes compared to male athletes, and that the school has been filling rosters merely to meet Title IX standards, rather than to offer equal opportunities to female athletes. Similar arguments of “previous non-compliance” with Title IX have now been made in the lawsuit against MSU.
These events are all the result of the COVID-19 pandemic’s devastating effects on college athletics. Several other schools have decided to cut, drop, or suspend at least one of their swimming and diving programs over the course of what has been a difficult year for college swimming.