Athletes win historic Title IX settlement with Clemson University

Women make up 57% of undergraduates, but only 44% of varsity athletes, and they lag behind men in treatment and benefits at most schools. But that could all change soon.

A recent settlement with Clemson University marked the first time male and female student-athletes have threatened to sue together to uphold Title IX. (Hector Alejandro / Flickr)

49 years ago, when Congress passed Title IX banning gender discrimination in education, feminists hoped the law would mean equality in varsity athletics. From the start, the federal government interpreted the law as requiring that college athletic programs provide three things: equal opportunity for participation; Equal treatment; and equal benefits.

Over the years, most enforcement efforts have focused on the first of these: participation. However, the courts and the government have interpreted the law to require “equity“- which did not mean an equal number of sporting opportunities, but simply progress towards equality – and they largely ignored equal treatment and benefits. As a result, almost 50 years later, the women still have not achieved equality in sports participation in many schools – women are 57 percent of undergraduates but only 44% of university athletes– and they lag far behind men in treatment and benefits, such as recruiting money and scholarships, in most schools. But that could all change soon.

On November 5, 2020, Clemson University announced a decision eliminate male varsity athletics and inter-varsity cross-country teams at the end of the academic year due to “significant financial challenges due to the ongoing pandemic” and concerns about “the capacity for long-term compliance under the title. IX ”.

In response, lawyers for the male and female athletes separately wrote letters to the president of Clemson University threatening to file Title IX class actions. The the men argued the abolition of these teams would mean that they would have fewer opportunities than women in terms of their respective numbers. Women in the rowing, cross-country and track and field teams argued they were not receiving equal financial assistance, treatment or sports benefits. Women also supported the claims of male athletes. It was the first time that male and female student-athletes threatened to sue together to uphold Title IX.

The strategy worked.

On April 22, Clemson University reached a landmark settlement in both cases. In the colony, Clemson agreed to provide women with equal financial assistance, treatment and sporting benefits. Clemson too agreed to reinstate men’s track and field and cross country teams, add a new women’s varsity team and give men and women equal opportunities to participate. The university will work with an external monitor to develop a gender equity plan and bring all aspects of its inter-varsity athletics program into line with Title IX by the 2023-24 academic year.

“We are delighted that the courageous male and female student-athletes of Clemson have stood up for their rights and forced Clemson to treat them equally and comply with Title IX,” said Arthur bryant from Bailey Glasser’s office in Oakland, Calif., Senior Male Student-Athlete Council. “As these landmark settlement agreements show, Title IX guarantees all student-athletes equal opportunities, financial support and treatment for athletes. If schools do not provide this, they will be held accountable. “

The students celebrated the settlement. “It’s not easy to fight against the school you love so much, but when it comes to a level playing field, it is necessary,” said the women’s triple jumper. Harleigh White, one of the plaintiffs in the women’s case. “As a senior student athlete, nursing student / psychic miner, and leader of the women’s empowerment group, I knew we had to fight. Track and Field and Cross Country are team sports, we are a family and I will always fight for what’s right.

The student lawyer—Lori Bullock from Newkirk Zwagerman, PLC, in Des Moines, Iowa, said:

“My original letter to the president of Clemson read” Clemson apparently denies male student-athletes an equal opportunity to participate in violation of Title IX and female student-athletes of equal financial assistance, treatment and sporting benefits by violation of Title IX. All of this must stop. Now, thanks to the willingness of these students to come together and fight for equity, it will be. “

“What’s unique here is that the men and women sued for different reasons of Title IX and they both won. This has never happened before, ”Smith College economics professor Andrew Zimbalist Recount M / s. “In the past you had men chasing Title IX saying that Title IX was a quota system. Here you have the men and women on the same side of the battlefield against the university.

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In the 2019-2020 academic year, Clemson provided $ 16,859,840 in financial assistance to athletes, but only $ 6,650,912, or 39%, to student-athletes. That was the equivalent of depriving women of at least $ 1.8 million in financial assistance for sport that year. That same year, Clemson spent $ 2,350,773 on recruiting expenses for all varsity teams, but only $ 394,360 on female teams, or just 16.7% of total recruiting expenses. These kinds of disparities have been around for years. In terms of attendance, Clemson was in the unusual position of slightly favoring female athletes: men made up 50.01 percent of enrolled students and 49.5% of the school’s varsity sports teams before the cut.

“Title IX is very clear that equal participation is only a norm. Schools are also required to provide equal treatment and equal benefits to women, ”Zimbalist said. “This includes purses, changing rooms, equality of travel and meals, quality and number of coaches, and a number of other things.”

The university is committed to immediately taking several very specific steps to ensure that fair financial aid, treatment and sports benefits for both men’s and women’s teams, including fair-trade dining options, medical and sports training equipment and supplies, services and equipment, flights to away games, high quality travel uniforms , accommodation, individual lockers and nameplates.

But women will also have more opportunities to participate. In the regulations, Clemson accepted to add one or more university women’s sports teams. “Women will have more niches because of this dual action,” Zimbalist said.

Zimbalist believes this rule will have a significant impact on other schools: “What is particularly gratifying is that Clemson is and has been for the past five years one of the two main football powers in the country, so they have a lot of attention. This case is likely to get more people than a typical case talking about gender equality in college sports. “

Zimbalist also anticipates that the regulation will influence the federal standards of Title IX. “Because of this lawsuit, there’s a good chance the Biden administration will set a new standard that insists on equal treatment and benefits,” Zimbalist said.

“I think you’ll see a lot of pressure to give women more equal, if not completely equal, promotional and advertising resources, which is a big deal. You’ll see them receiving equal recruiting funds or getting closer, which is a big deal as well. Then things like travel, accommodation, changing rooms, coach count, coach history are also supposed to be matched. Historically, almost every case has been about participation, and most of the discussion around Title IX is about the number and ratios of participation. It has to broaden that understanding, broaden the conversation.

On the eve of the 50th anniversary of Title IX, equal can finally mean equal.


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