Eleven members of the Michigan State University women's swimming and diving team filed a federal Title IX lawsuit in Michigan’s Western District on Friday seeking a preliminary injunction to prevent their sport from being eliminated.
As reported by mlive.com, Michigan State announced Oct. 22 that the men's and women's swimming and diving teams would be eliminated at the end of the 2020-21 season. The lawsuit filed Friday lists Michigan State, its Board of Trustees, president Samuel Stanley and athletic director Bill Beekman as defendants.
Michigan State cited limited facilities and a projected athletic department budget shortfall of at least $30 million due to the COVID-19 pandemic to justify its decision. The two programs cost about $2 million as part of an athletic budget that brought in $140 million in the 2019 fiscal year.
The lawsuit claims that, even before the women’s swimming and diving team was eliminated, Michigan State “disproportionately under-represents women in athletic opportunities” and over inflates rosters for women’s teams in rowing, cross country and indoor and outdoor track. It says the university should be adding women’s sports instead of eliminating them and the members of the women’s swimming and diving team are forced to decide between either giving up their sport or being forced to transfer to a different school.
According to the Lansing State Journal, Michigan State currently offers 13 varsity sports teams for women and 11 for men. Those numbers will drop one each with the cancellation of swimming and diving. The lawsuit alleges that Michigan State is padding its Title IX reporting numbers by offering large rosters in certain sports that do not ultimately provide the opportunities for performance the rule intends for.
The programs cost the department $2.073 million in total, which amounts to less than 2 percent of the $140 million budget for the entire athletic department, the State Journal reported. That cost also includes the partial scholarships it handed out to 24.7 athletes in 2019, according to the NCAA's Financial Reporting System.
The current roster includes 30 men and 28 women, all of whom pay some tuition back to the university. However, those tuition dollars do not directly go to the athletic department.
“We are saddened and disheartened that MSU continues to discriminate against women when it comes to intercollegiate athletics,” said Jill Zwagerman of Newkirk Zwagerman, one of two firms representing the athletes in their suit. “The university is out of compliance with respect to participation, scholarships and other program conditions for these female athletes."