Women’s equestrian and fencing are back at Brown University, while a 22-year-old agreement will eventually come to an end.
The private Ivy League school in Rhode Island announced Thursday that women’s equestrian and fencing, which were originally cut in May, will have their varsity status reinstated. According to Inside Higher Ed, the reversal comes as part of a deal to end the terms of the 1998 “Cohen agreement,” which has required “Brown to maintain a strict and specific proportion of athletic opportunities for women that is close to the proportion of women in its undergraduate population.” That agreement will now end on Aug. 31, 2024.
“The Cohen agreement served an important purpose when it was signed 22 years ago, but Brown’s commitment to women athletes transcends the agreement,” University president Christina Paxson said in the press release. “We can provide excellent athletics opportunities for women and men, be a leader in upholding Title IX and have a competitive varsity program. And we will.”
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Brown’s presidents and attorneys for the female athletes released a joint statement on Thursday, spelling out the details of the agreement.
“Under the terms of the proposed settlement, Brown’s women’s equestrian and women’s fencing teams will be restored to varsity status and the Joint Agreement will terminate in August 2024,” the statement reads. “The Joint Agreement, which has been in effect since October 1998, will terminate on August 31, 2024, and Brown will remain subject to Title IX. While the Joint Agreement is in effect, Brown will comply with the Agreement’s maximum 2.25% difference between the percentage of women varsity athletes and women full-time undergraduates. During this time, Brown will not reduce the status of or eliminate any women’s varsity teams and will not add any new men’s varsity teams.
“The parties will incorporate these terms into a Proposed Amendment to the Joint Agreement, which will be submitted to Judge John J. McConnell, Jr. of the U.S. District Court for the District of Rhode Island for his approval upon notice to the Cohen class. Brown’s women’s equestrian and fencing teams will be restored to varsity status upon preliminary approval of the proposed settlement, which is expected to be presented to the Court next week.”
The situation has been fluid since May 28, when the Excellence in Brown Athletics Initiative transitioned 11 varsity sports programs to club status, while giving two sailing programs varsity status. Men’s indoor and outdoor track and field was reinstated on June 9 along with men’s cross country.
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In late June, the Associated Press reported 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 by cutting the varsity programs.
“Defendants’ decision to eliminate five women’s intercollegiate athletic varsity teams, and with them meaningful participation opportunities for women, constitutes a gross and willful violation of the Joint Agreement to the immediate and irreparable harm of the class," the motion stated, asking the court to enforce Title IX and prevent Brown from cutting sports unless it can prove that the law hasn’t been violated.
With the reinstatement of men’s track and field, men’s cross country, women’s equestrian and women’s fencing, the sports cut by the Excellence in Brown Athletics are now men’s fencing, women’s skiing, men’s and women’s golf, and men’s and women’s squash.
Conversely, Iowa said that its sports cuts are final, even though the Big Ten Conference reversed its decision to postpone the 2020 football season to the spring. The Daily Iowan reported Thursday that Iowa athletic director Gary Barta said the return of football won’t bring back Iowa men’s and women’s swimming and diving, men’s tennis or gymnastics, which will be discontinued after the 2020-21 school year.
“I spoke with our staff [Wednesday],” Barta said Thursday. “The position eliminations, the furloughs, the salary reductions, including the four sports no longer continuing at Iowa, are all still in place. Those decisions won’t change, because the financial crisis is certainly still in play. And the [losses] are still going to be very significant.
“We are going to have more revenue at the end because having these games televised will bring more revenue. But it will be a much reduced amount, because we’re not playing a full schedule. With no fans, we don’t have ticket revenue. We don’t have the donations that go with the seats. And we’re going to have much reduced revenue in all other categories.”
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