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Judge rules Michigan State not Title IX compliant, but doesn't have to reinstate swimming

USA TODAY SPORTS logo USA TODAY SPORTS 8/9/2022 Chandler Engelbrecht, Detroit Free Press

A U.S. District Court judge ruled that Michigan State's decision to discontinue its men's and women's swimming and diving teams in October 2020 violates Title IX, the federal law banning sexual discrimination in education.

Eleven  Michigan State swimmers and divers filed a lawsuit against the university in January 2021 claiming the school's decision resulted in it not offering enough athletic participation opportunities for women athletes. 

The plaintiff's request was originally denied, but after an appeal and remand for consideration, U.S. District Judge Hala Y. Jarbou has granted their motion in part.

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The court's decision does not suggest MIchigan State State, which said it ended the swimming and diving programs due to budget reasons, needs to bring back its swimming and diving teams. The school required to submit to Jarbou "a Title IX compliance plan" within 60 days, an order that accompanied the judge's ruling said.

A sign at the Michigan State University campus in East Lansing, Michigan. © Derrick L. Turner, Lansing State Journal A sign at the Michigan State University campus in East Lansing, Michigan.

SEEKING RELIEF: Michigan State asks Supreme Court to take Title IX case

DEEP DIVE: Explaining the impact of Michigan State cutting swimming teams

"It makes little sense to require MSU to use its finite resources to temporarily reinstate the women’s swimming and diving team where, even if Plaintiffs succeed on their claims, MSU could chart a different course in a few months’ time," court documents acquired by the Free Press on Tuesday read. "Those resources are better spent on what is more likely to be a sustainable course of compliance over the long term.

"Accordingly, the Court finds that the appropriate relief is to require MSU to submit a compliance plan to reduce or eliminate the existing participation gap for women."

Michigan State also cited the COVID-19 pandemic as another reason behind eliminating its swimming and diving teams. It was the first varsity sport cut by the university since men's gymnastics in 2001. At the time, the school planned to honor scholarships for both teams throughout 2020, and coaches contracts were honored through June 2021.

On July 29, Michigan State asked the Supreme Court to hear the case, but its decision to take the case won't come until early October due its current summer recess.

A growing concern in this case is it becoming a platform for broader challenges of Title IX, which passed its 50th anniversary in June. 

Per court documents, MSU asserts the court should deny the plaintiff's request because "doing so would upset the status quo."

"When Plaintiffs filed this action in 2021, the women’s varsity swimming and diving team still existed," court documents read. "But after the Court denied their motion for a preliminary injunction, the 2020-2021 season ended and MSU continued with its plan to eliminate the team. Some Plaintiffs continued competing through a club team at MSU, but the varsity team no longer exists."

After the court's original decision was appealed, the Court of Appeals instructed it "narrow its focus" on Michigan State's participation gap between its men and women athletes. The school has more than 800 athletes and its student body is 51% percent female as of July.

Plaintiffs contend that Michigan State over counts women athletes by "adding to its participant count students who join the women’s soccer and volleyball teams after their seasons end, while not doing the same for students who join the football team." However, the court was not persuaded by the plaintiffs argument due to a lack of evidence. 

"With a possible exception for a couple of women on the crew team in the 2019-2020 season, MSU’s numbers appear to be accurate," the judge wrote. 

Court findings illustrate Michigan State's participation gap matches the national average of the past eight years. 

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Judge rules Michigan State not Title IX compliant, but doesn't have to reinstate swimming


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