Quinnipiac officials defend sports roster sizes
BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — Quinnipiac University’s top athletic officials defended in court Wednesday their policy of mandating the size of team rosters, despite complaints from coaches that some teams are being made artificially large and others small.
Athletic Director Jack McDonald and Tracey Flynn, the university’s associate athletic director in charge of compliance, testified Wednesday in federal court in a Title IX lawsuit brought by members and the coach of the university’s women’s volleyball team, which has been targeted for elimination.
The players and coach Robin Sparks are accusing the school of failing to provide female students with an equal opportunity to participate in varsity intercollegiate athletics in violation of federal Title IX laws, enacted in 1972.
To comply with Title IX, a school can show proportionality of female athletes to female students on campus; or a history of increasing sports for women; or prove it has met the interest and ability of the underrepresented group.
Quinnipiac has been relying on its history to meet Title IX requirements, but plans to use the proportionality test next year, McDonald and Flynn testified.
“There are still some struggles, but coaches are really trying to make those numbers,” said Flynn.
Germaine Fairchild, the school’s softball coach, testified that as part of that effort she has been ordered to carry 25 players, when the normal size of a women’s softball team is between 17 and 19.
Fairchild said she was given no additional money or coaches to handle the influx of players.
She said she kept 26 women on the team in the fall of 2007 until after it’s size had been reported to federal education officials, but was able to reduce the team to 17 in time for the spring season. She told the excess players they could not have uniforms, equipment or travel with the team and they quit, she said.
“The number of female athletes receiving actual benefits was 17, not 26,” she testified.
Fairchild’s testimony followed McDonald’s admission Tuesday that coaches on some of Quinnipiac men’s teams also manipulated their rosters by dropping players before the school submitted reports to the U.S. Department of Education to meet gender equity goals. The teams, identified Wednesday as baseball and men’s lacrosse, would add the players again after the reports were submitted.
McDonald said Wednesday he would make sure that practice did not continue.
“We’re going to hammer it home,” he said. “I’m going to ensure it. I’d be a fool not to.”
Flynn testified that she has received complaints from the women’s lacrosse, field hockey, ice hockey and softball teams that their rosters are artificially large. Men’s baseball, lacrosse, cross country and soccer coaches have all complained that their rosters are set too low, she said.
Flynn acknowledged she knew that some coaches were adding and dropping players to manipulate the reports to the federal government, but felt helpless to do anything about it.
“Did I think we were following the law? Yes,” she said. “I didn’t like the way we got there.”
Quinnipiac has 21 Division I sports — 10 men’s and 11 women’s programs. Citing budget cuts because of the recession, the school announced in March that it was ending women’s volleyball, cutting men’s golf and outdoor track, and promoting cheerleading to varsity status.
Cheerleading coach Mary Ann Powers testified Tuesday that her sport is overseen by several competing organizations and she did not know whether cheerleading could be considered a sport for Title IX purposes.
The school’s student population is estimated to be about 63 percent women next year, and under roster management goals, about 62 percent of its athletes next year will be women, McDonald said.
That is up from about 51 percent women just a few years ago, he said.
Sparks and her players are asking U.S. District Judge Stefan Underhill for an injunction that would require the university to keep the team until the lawsuit is resolved.
Closing arguments in the hearing are expected Thursday. Underhill has not said when he will issue a ruling.
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