The College of William & Mary has been in violation of Title IX regulation for decades according to attorney Arthur H. Bryant of Bailey & Glasser LLP.
The law firm and William & Mary just reached a settlement regarding the initial September elimination of three women’s sports. Those three sports – women’s gymnastics, women’s swimming and women’s volleyball – were reinstated by the institution to avoid being sued in a class-action lawsuit by Bryant’s firm for Title IX violations.
In 1991, William & Mary was planning to eliminate women's basketball, among other programs. Bryant's threat of legal action that year prompted the school to reinstate that program.
By eliminating the three teams this past Sept. 3, along with four other men’s programs, W&M was depriving equal opportunity to women on the basis of sport, in addition to financial aid and treatment, according to Bryant.
Female student-athletes on those teams gathered legal representation for those claims by the Oakland, California-based law firm.
Through the firm’s investigations of William & Mary’s practices based on gender, they discovered that the noncompliance extended prior to the school’s announcement of cuts.
"It became clear that William & Mary was in blatant violation of Title IX and that the elimination of these three women's teams would make matters worse," Bryant, the lead counselor on the lawsuit, told NBC Sports Washington. "They have been in violation of Title IX for decades. That's what the documents (provided by the school) show."
In the athletic department’s ‘Tribe 2025’ strategic plan, the writing notes a lapse in gender equity among the school’s programs. The plan outlines multiple goals and objectives to fulfill the student-athlete experience. One objective is Gender Equity, which states that the school will adjust team rosters and funding to reduce the participation gap each year.
W&M's student body makeup is 58% female, 42% male as stated in US News and confirmed by Bailey & Glasser. Through William & Mary’s documents reviewed by Bryant and his legal team, the college currently operates on a 50-50 scale for gender when allocating scholarships.
Bryant attests that according to Title IX, a participation gap should not exist for schools that are compliant with the law. Athletic departments – in regards to sport opportunity, financial aid, scholarships and treatment – should reflect the student body’s gender demographics in a proportionality test enforced by the Department of Education’s Office For Civil Rights.
This extends beyond the number of teams within a department, but also the scholarship amount for the individual athletes and roster construction to reflect the student-body population.
“William & Mary has always been committed to gender equity and compliance with Title IX. [Monday's] announcement provides the path forward in making significant progress toward attaining equity in participation,” the school said in a statement to NBC Sports Washington in response to the allegations. “Athletics will pursue a robust process for completing a gender equity strategic plan this academic year. That plan will ensure Title IX compliance by the end of the 2022-23 academic year, if not sooner.”
Additionally, an older version of the school’s FAQs on the department’s changes obtained by NBC Sports Washington through Bryant’s law firm, states that the original reduction of sports would not accomplish Title IX compliance.
The school said it would have to strategically rebalance sport offerings and target roster management in the active sports to reduce the existing participation gap. The updated version of the FAQs states the decision to bring back women’s gymnastics, volleyball and swimming “will make significant progress toward attaining equity in participation.”
Whether to meet Title IX laws or not, the strategic plan, released in Oct. 2019, planned to increase opportunities for women by adding another women’s sport at the varsity level. This, however, was nearly a year before the three programs were cut prior to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Examples of Title IX violations don’t end with a proportionality test. The law firm says it found numerous instances where women’s programs were not receiving the same treatment for basic competition needs.
“There was example after example of the men's teams being treated better than the women's teams from everything from travel and lodging, to uniforms and equipment, the practice facilities and practice times, all that sort of stuff," Bryant told NBC Sports Washington.
Prior to the settlement, athletic director Samantha Huge and the school agreed to part ways in the wake of the potential lawsuit and public outcry. She left her position Oct. 6, a day before her first scheduled meeting with the law firm.
"We had no interaction with the former athletic director,” Bryant said. “It is clear the program was in violation under her leadership. And it was clear that she was intimately involved in proposing changes to the program that would have made it worse.”
Huge was one of 49 female Division I athletic directors of the 353 programs who reported demographics to the NCAA in 2019.
William & Mary will enter the 2021-22 school year with 19 sports (seven men, 12 women). The college originally housed 23 programs, which is generally above average compared to other institutions of similar size.
Agreed upon in part of the settlement, William & Mary will create a Gender Equity Plan to become fully compliant with Title IX by the end of the 2022-23 academic year. The reinstatement of the three programs and the equity plan will satisfy the law firm and prevent the college from being sued.