Officials at Eastern Michigan University say the school would prefer to create a women's lacrosse team over reinstating its softball program as a way of dealing with Title IX compliance issues.
According to The Detroit News, EMU is proposing adding women’s lacrosse instead of softball, as lacrosse would be cheaper but given the larger size of lacrosse rosters would also add more female athletes towards keeping the school in Title IX compliance.
"This approach allows us to provide more athletics participation opportunities for female students, in the most efficient and sustainable manner possible with regards to financial resources," wrote athletic director Scott Wetherbee in a three-page letter to federal Judge George Steeh.
In September, Steeh ordered EMU to reinstate women’s tennis and softball, noting that financial hardship is not an excuse to bypass the spirit of Title IX.
Lawyers for two female athletes who sued the school last year over the elimination of four sports, including softball, refute Wetherbee’s argument, saying that EMU is merely stalling. Even if EMU reinstated softball immediately, the 2019 season would be a loss, as practices start later this month.
EMU and lawyers for two female student-athletes — one tennis player and one softball player — have met several times since Steeh’s ruling, with both parties reporting good results. This fall, EMU even started interviewing possible candidates for tennis and softball, but nothing came of it.
"EMU is throwing every argument it can think of to avoid having to bring its program into compliance, but plaintiffs will not let EMU continue to wiggle out of their statutory obligations," wrote the lawyers for Marie Mayerova and softball player Ariana Chretien, "because getting away with non-compliance for over four decades is more than these women can tolerate and it will not be tolerated any longer.
Wetherbee, in his letter to Steeh, estimates the annual cost for softball at $870,000, and include between 17 and 20 student athletes. He estimates lacrosse would cost $650,000, and include between 33 and 36 student athletes. Either program would be allowed 12 scholarships, to be divided up as the respective coaches see fit. Thus, there would be more out-of-pocket tuition money coming from lacrosse, another financial benefit.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs have already responded to the letter and are clearly rejecting the proposal.
"Colleges and universities across the country have tried to fight efforts to bring their programs into compliance for decades and the courts continue to strike down these meritless attempts," the plaintiffs' lawyers wrote. "... It is time for EMU to avoid taking a long hard look at its athletic department and stop trying to take the 'easy' way out."