Eliminated UConn Rowing Program Mulls Title IX Lawsuit

Brock Fritz Headshot

The University of Connecticut women’s rowing program is looking into a Title IX lawsuit after last month’s announcement that the team will be eliminated after the 2020-21 season.

Head coach Jen Sanford told The Associated Press that she is exploring the possibility of a lawsuit in an attempt to preserve the athletic opportunities provided by UConn’s women’s rowing, which was formed in 1997.

“It pains me to have any negative attention brought to the university,” Sanford, the only coach in the history of UConn women’s rowing, wrote to the AP of why she is considering challenging the federal civil rights law that ensures equal opportunities for women. “However as the leader of the rowing program, people are counting on me to take action to have the decision reversed, so my focus now is on gathering more information to see what options we may have.”

Related content: UConn Cutting Four Sports in Cost-Savings Effort

UConn announced June 24 that it will cut men’s tennis, men’s swimming and diving, men’s cross country and women’s rowing after 2020-21. The university in Storrs is also reducing operating expenses in the remaining sports by 15 percent to combat budget deficits made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic. The AP reported that UConn’s budget deficit is expected to be between $47 million and $129 million this year.

“While this is a painful decision, it is in the best interest of the long-term viability of UConn and UConn athletics,” UConn president Thomas Katsouleas said in the announcement. “The Division of Athletics recently completed a thorough and comprehensive review of its operation and programs, an inquiry initiated long before the COVID-19 crisis began. For several years, the level of institutional financial support committed to athletics has been growing. Today, we shared some difficult decisions that nonetheless should chart a course towards better financial sustainability at a level of support and sport sponsorship more in line with our peers.”

Valerie McMurtrie Bonnette, who consults schools on Title IX issues, told the AP that eliminating a large women’s team doesn’t necessary mean UConn is violating Title IX.

“When schools are cutting women's teams along with men's teams, the goal is participation proportionate to enrollment,” Bonnette said. “A lot of schools are cutting teams right now. It's a very difficult time for all schools.”

A petition on Change.org titled “Save UConn Division 1 Rowing” had more than 6,850 signatures as of Friday morning.

“UConn Rowing is one of few programs with an all-women coaching staff that leads by example and provides opportunities to women to help them grow as athletes, students, leaders and people,” the petition reads. “Because the other teams who will no longer be sponsored were given several weeks notice and were able to raise money, please consider signing this petition to allow more time for the program to fundraise.”

UConn rowing isn’t alone in pursuing Title IX lawsuits during the COVID-19 era and corresponding budget cuts throughout the college landscape. The AP reported in late June that attorneys for Public Justice and the American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island filed a motion in federal court alleging that Brown University violated Title IX after transitioning 11 varsity sports to club status.

Related content: Brown U Allegedly Violated Title IX by Cutting Sports

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