The East Carolina University Athletic Department may face a potential lawsuit, from unnamed individuals involved with the women’s tennis and swimming/diving teams, which states that cutting the women’s tennis and swimming/diving teams is a violation of Title IX.
ECU cut the men and women’s tennis and swimming/diving teams as a result of financial strains the department faced due to COVID-19 in May. According to an ECU News Services press release, cutting these teams would continue to save a projected $4.9 million for the university, of which the money will be put toward reducing the current financial deficit and the institutional investment in future years.
Interim Chancellor Ron Mitchelson issued a statement after cutting the programs in May. He said in the statement student athletes and the hardships they may face were the biggest concern during this time.
“The affected student athletes will be our priority and we are committed to offering them our full support during this transition,” Mitchelson said in his statement.
ECU still has 16 total athletic teams, which is the NCAA limit for division one schools. This action affected 68 players and nine coaches total.
Anonymous individuals involved in the cut programs decided to take legal action and reached out to an attorney from Bailey Glasser law firm, Arthur Bryant, to represent them in this case. Bryant said the lawsuit only pertains to the cut women’s tennis and swimming/diving teams.
Although the law firm is based in Oakland, California, Bryant said that he has represented more women student athletes in Title IX mitigation against schools and universities than anyone in the nation.
“ECU has two choices here,” Bryant said. “Either they can reinstate the teams and comply with Title IX, or we can go to court and make them do so.”
The university said it would honor all student athletes who were on scholarship and who decided to stay at ECU, according to the initial press release. Additionally, the NCAA’s transfer rule states that students who transfer from schools who discontinued their respective sport are immediately eligible to play for their new school, according to ECU News Services.
According to a letter sent from Bryant to ECU Interim Chancellor Ron Mitchelson, ECU has until Dec. 1 to reinstate the women’s tennis and swimming/diving teams. If the university does not reinstate those teams before that deadline, the case will become an official lawsuit and it will go to court.
The swimming/diving and tennis teams would start on time this season even if ECU chose not to reinstate those teams by Dec. 1 and the case were to go to court, Bryant said.
“We would seek a preliminary injunction, which is a quick court order that requires ECU to reinstate these teams while we prepare a court case for trial,” Bryant said.
The swimming/diving season usually starts in September and ends around February while the tennis season starts in September and goes through April.
According to the letter Bryant sent to MItchelson, Athletic Director Jon Gilbert discussed with a Title IX consultant and the consultant said that cutting these respective teams would not violate Title IX.
“ECU Athletic Director Jon Gilbert said the university worked with a Title IX consultant to ensure East Carolina remained in compliance with the federal gender-equity statute,” Bryant’s letter said.
Both Athletic Director Jon Gilbert and Interim Chancellor Ron Mitchelson issued no comment as of date of publication regarding what the consultant said about how ECU would remain in compliance with Title IX.
According to Bryant’s letter, ECU claims that its student population is 57% women and that they would still have a 50-50 participation rate between male and female athletes, even with the tennis and swimming/diving teams being cut, which complies with Title IX.
Bryant said ECU has a 6.08% gap between the undergraduate enrollment rate and intercollegiate athletic participation rate among women at ECU. He said the university would need exactly 70 more women student athletes to reach gender equity under Title IX.
“You don’t want to file a lawsuit if you don’t have to,” Bryant said. “You first sit down with reasonable people, talk and you explain why it makes more sense to avoid the lawsuit and have the school simply put the teams back and get in compliance with Title IX.”
ECU and its legal team have made no official comments regarding this potential lawsuit as of date of publication.