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Fresno State LAX Players: Program Cut Violates Title IX

Brock Fritz

Members of the Fresno State women’s lacrosse team are putting up a fight as their program is scheduled to be eliminated at the end of the 2020-21 school year.

According to The Fresno Bee, an attorney representing players sent a letter to Fresno State president Joseph Castro last week threatening legal action if the program isn’t reinstated.

“The law is crystal clear in this area,” said Arthur H. Bryant, of Bailey & Glasser in Oakland, when stating that eliminating the women’s lacrosse team is in violation of Title IX. “There is a three-part test to comply with Title IX in terms of opportunities to participate. You only have to meet one part. The second and third parts cannot be met if you’re eliminating an active women’s team so it ends up all coming down to the first part, which is, are your opportunities to participate substantially proportionate to undergraduate enrollment rates?

“The measure is not the percentage, but the gap between what your current numbers are and what it would take to reach total equality and if that gap is big enough to fit a team for which there’s interest and ability and competition available, then you’re in violation.

“The Office for Civil Rights adopted that a long time ago. The courts have agreed with that and adopted that and that’s the law.”

Fresno State, an NCAA Division I California State University in Fresno, announced in October that its lacrosse, men’s tennis and wrestling programs will be eliminated at the end of the school year “in response to ongoing financial challenges for Fresno State Athletics, whose revenues have been dramatically impacted this fiscal year by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Related content: Fresno State Eliminating Three Athletic Programs

A university spokesperson released a statement regarding Bryant’s letter late last week, according to The Fresno Bee.

“Title IX proportionality was among the top factors considered when we evaluated the difficult choices that had to be made regarding our athletics program," the spokesperson said. "The university will ensure its commitment to gender equity and investment in our 12 remaining women’s sports programs as we continue to sponsor 18 NCAA Division I sports (six men’s sports and 12 women’s sports), serving and supporting approximately 430 student-athletes.

“As we review the letter received (Thursday), we want to reaffirm our steadfast commitment to gender equity throughout our stellar athletics program.”

When announcing the cuts in October, Fresno State said the moves are expected to lead to an overall annual budget savings of about $2.5 million. Fresno State athletics estimated a $6.6 million operating deficit this fiscal year “due to the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on the sports teams’ competitive seasons and the related result of not being able to have fans in its venues.”

The cuts impact 70 student-athletes, who will continue to be offered financial assistance as well as help if they choose to transfer. The frequently asked questions section of the announcement said that the three soon-to-be eliminated sports accounted for 23.7 scholarships in 2019-20, which cost the university $800,000.

According to The Bee, the university’s latest total operating expenses report showed that cutting women’s lacrosse saved $1,086,505 due in part to the high travel costs as most college lacrosse teams aren’t located in the western United States. Fresno State reportedly spent $36,669 on lacrosse recruiting in 2018-19. The only Fresno State women’s sport that saw higher recruiting costs was basketball, while that number was $9,647 for soccer, $13,429 for softball, $16,363 for water polo, $19,643 for swimming and diving and $34,384 for volleyball.

The Bee reports that Bryant’s letter read, “educational institutions receiving federal funds cannot eliminate women’s teams for which interest, ability, and competition are available unless ‘intercollegiate level participation opportunities for male and female students are provided in numbers substantially proportionate to their respective enrollments.’

“With the elimination of the teams announced on Oct. 16, 2020, the school’s athletic participation numbers drop to approximately 221 men and 295 women, or 57.17% women – which still leaves a 2.37% gap. Therefore, even with the announced team eliminations, Fresno State would still need to add approximately 30 women to reach gender equity under Title IX. This is almost exactly the number of women on the lacrosse team that the school is eliminating.

“Based on these facts, unless Fresno State agrees to reinstate the women’s lacrosse team or has some plans for compliance with Title IX we do not yet know, we will seek a preliminary injunction immediately reinstating and preserving the team.”

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