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W&M dodges lawsuit, to reinstate women’s sports targeted in cuts

WILLIAMSBURG (AP) The College of William & Mary plans to reinstate three women’s athletic programs that had been targeted for abolishment, a decision that helps the school avoid a lawsuit and move closer to gender equity under Title IX.

The school announced the plan last week, reversing a Sept. 3 announcement that women’s swimming, volleyball and gymnastics, along with four men’s sports, would be cut in a cost-saving measure. That announcement was made by former athletic director Samantha Huge, who resigned Oct. 6.

“The university wants those teams to thrive and will treat them equitably with other varsity teams at the university,” the school said in a release. “By reinstating these sports, William & Mary will make significant progress toward achieving equity in participation in 2021-22.”

The school said additional cuts in the rosters of men’s programs, or increases in women’s participation, will be needed to get the program Title IX compliant within two years.

“We recognize the very substantial challenge but are committed to engaging those who bring substantive solutions,” Jeremy Martin, interim athletic director, said. “Consistent with our phased approach to decision making under COVID-19, we will move swiftly to lay out the challenge and arrive at a decision for the 2021-2022 academic year.”

The decision comes as part of a review of the cuts directed by school President Katherine A. Rowe and was celebrated by lawyers representing some of the female athletes, who had threatened a class-action lawsuit if the university did not reinstate the programs.

“This is a major victory for gender equity, everyone at William & Mary, and all who care about fairness and the law,” said attorney Arthur Bryant of Bailey & Glasser in Oakland, California. “The women student-athletes at William & Mary are finally going to get the equal treatment they deserve—and the law requires.”

Bryant had previously threatened to sue William & Mary for violating Title IX in 1991, when it decided to eliminate its women’s basketball and swimming teams, along with its men’s swimming and wrestling teams. The school quickly reinstated all four teams.

Richmond lawyers Mark Dix and Connor Bleakley were members of the legal team representing the student athletes.

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