Eastern Michigan University's decision to eliminate two women's sports is on hold after a federal judge ruled Thursday to grant two student-athletes a preliminary injunction.
In a 37-page decision, Judge George Caram Steeh found that there is sufficient evidence that EMU does not provide equal opportunities to female athletes under Title IX.
The university and its athletic department announced in March that it was cutting four sports — women's tennis and softball and men's wrestling and swimming and diving — in the interest of saving $2.4 million annually. Tennis player Marie Mayerova and softball player Ariana Chretien then sued the university, both arguing that transfer to another school would be difficult. Mayerova, from the Czech Republic, would need a new visa to attend school in a different state. Chretien, an aviation major, has indicated that schools interested in her as a transfer do not offer her chosen field of study.
As reported by The Detroit News, while most of the athletes affected in the March cuts were male, numbers submitted to the U.S. Department of Education since 2003 show Eastern Michigan has struggled to provide female athletes a percentage that aligns with the student-body population. In 2016-17, the most recent academic year for which data is available, 59.74 percent of Eastern Michigan students were female, while the female student-athlete population was 43.88 percent.
University officials argued they have increased opportunities for female athletes, with 323 female athletes in 2017-18, compared to a low of 185 in 2008-09. Steeh was unmoved. "The actual numbers reveal a participation disparity that has lingered for at least 15 years, with no evidence of a serious effort to address it," he wrote, adding, "The court finds that the public interest is best served by upholding the goals of Title IX."
Steeh also wrote he is not in position to decide a reasonable outcome, and instead ordered an Oct. 23 conference between Eastern Michigan representatives and lawyers representing Mayerova and Chretien.