La Salle University announced Tuesday that it will launch “a gender equity review and enact a gender equity plan for 2022-23 to maintain and strengthen Title IX compliance across all aspects of the University’s intercollegiate athletics program,” according to an agreement reached with attorneys retained by members of La Salle’s women’s volleyball team, which is one of the sports being cut by the school.
La Salle is not currently restoring any teams that were eliminated due to Title IX compliance issues, under the terms of the agreement, while agreeing to “continually review its participation numbers in the 2021-22 academic year, and will return a program to meet the requirements of Title IX if necessary.”
La Salle agreed to a number of specific measures, including a stipulation not to eliminate any additional men’s or women’s teams in the next five academic years after 2021-22.
Last September, La Salle announced it was cutting seven sports at the end of the academic year, with 130 current students being impacted by the cuts. Sports being cut initially were to include four men’s programs and three women’s programs. Last month, the school announced it would be reinstating one of the men’s programs, swimming and diving, after a fundraising drive by alumni of the program, keeping a sport with a projected 17 team members.
After that May announcement, attorney Arthur Bryant of Bailey & Glasser LLP was retained by members of the volleyball team. His co-counsels were Lori Bullock and Cary Joshi.
Negotiations with the school resulted in the agreement announced Tuesday. The agreement itself, provided to The Inquirer, notes a number of additional steps:
La Salle will provide flights, including any chartered flights, to away games “equitably” to female and male athletes.
La Salle will “ensure that women’s and men’s teams are given equal access to scheduling and weight room time.”
La Salle will provide equitable allotments for team gear, medical services, and meals.
In a unique aspect of the agreement, La Salle will provide undergraduate enrollment numbers and participation numbers for 2021-22 to the plaintiffs’ attorneys, with specifics on what sports are to be added if a “participation gap” is too wide. A gap of “7 to 13″ participants would mean the women’s tennis team would be added for the 2022-23 academic year and continue for at least five academic years. A larger gap would mean the volleyball team would be reinstated. Still larger, the tennis and volleyball teams added.
“Title IX compliance is at the forefront of our daily work and served as a critical component in the University’s decision in September and the reinstatement in May of men’s swimming and diving,” La Salle athletic director Brian Baptiste said in a statement. “Our careful planning always accounted for a thorough review of our department and the execution of a subsequent action plan to strengthen our Title IX commitment. We are fully committed to delivering meaningful opportunities for all. We are confident in our ability to achieve this goal and maintain this standard, and we will provide regular updates throughout this process.”
“The plan set forth by La Salle Athletics required thoughtful consideration for the betterment of the department and the well-being and best interests of our student-athletes,” La Salle interim president Tim O’Shaughnessy said in the statement. “The reinvestment of our athletics budget to address the overall experience of our student-athletes and ensure equitable opportunities and treatment was featured prominently in this plan. We are excited about the future of La Salle Athletics.”
Sarah Nahas, one of two La Salle volleyball players who had retained Bailey & Glasser, said in a statement issued by the law firm, “We were crushed and outraged that La Salle discriminated against us and other women athletes by eliminating our teams and giving male athletes far better treatment. We had to stop that. We hope women at other schools will fight for their rights, too.”
“This settlement is an enormous victory for the women at La Salle, the entire La Salle community, and everyone who cares about gender equity and the law,’' Bryant said in the statement. “Title IX require schools to provide female and male student-athletes with equal opportunities, athletic financial aid, and treatment. Now, thanks to Sarah Nahas and Lizzy Osborn, La Salle will do so.”
The agreement notes that to “avoid the expense of litigation and without admitting liability,” La Salle will pay $59,000 in clients’ costs and attorneys’ fees, payment sent to Bailey & Glasser within 30 days.
What is different than a number of other Title IX compliance agreements reached between colleges and clients represented by Bryant is that La Salle apparently was able to show that its most updated projections did not show a gap that required bringing back any of the women’s teams slated to be cut.
La Salle’s projections for 2021-22 showed 181 slots for men’s sports and 290 for women’s sports, noting that some athletes can be counted in multiple sports across seasons, in track, for instance. There are plans for substantial increases in roster sizes for women’s teams. Women’s rowing, for instance, is projected to increase from 22 in 2020-21 to 38 in 2021-22, while indoor and outdoor women’s track are both projected to go from 25 team members to 34. Men’s indoor and outdoor track are projected to increase from 25 to 30 team members.
“Based on the numbers of this past year, they would have been in violation, but its based on projections ... and the vast majority of the members of the women’s teams had already transferred out. So it was close to impossible to have them continue this coming year,’’ Bryant said in a phone interview, also noting the proposed expansions to the remaining women’s teams, and how the agreement calls for a strict adherence to those numbers.
What doesn’t change is the projected numbers for baseball, men’s water polo, men’s and women’s tennis, softball, and women’s volleyball. Those numbers are zero.
In the press release announcing Tuesday’s agreement, La Salle noted that the cuts were part of a “strategic effort to reallocate the University’s investment to strengthen the student-athlete experience and the creation of a more sustainable environment for the University’s athletics department; improvement in the competitiveness and overall quality of La Salle’s intercollegiate athletics programs and department; and better alignment with the average number of intercollegiate athletics teams sponsored by members of the Atlantic 10 Conference and the entirety of the NCAA.”