Last February we blogged about the complaint University of Iowa field hockey players filed against the university over the termination of their coach, Tracey Griesbaum. This week we learned that the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights has decided to investigate the complaint and determine whether the university in fact discriminated against the players in violation of Title IX.
We believe this is the first time the government has ever considered a complaint about a coach’s termination to be sex discrimination from the players’ point of view. Title IX regulations require equal treatment between men’s and women’s programs in the aggregate, including the quality of coaching athletes receive as a component of that requirement. The players argue that when Iowa fired Griesbaum over complaints about her demanding coaching style, the university imparted a sexist double standard that deprived them of the opportunity to be challenged by a successful, demanding coach. Importantly to the framing of this claim, male athletes at Iowa are given that opportunity, as evidenced by the fact the university has never disciplined coaches of men’s teams for being too hard on them.
It will also be interesting to see whether OCR looks at the harmful message a university sends to female players who might be aspiring coaches when it fires a female coach over conduct that is tolerated and even encouraged from male coaches. Because female athletes could be discouraged from pursuing a lifelong relationship with college athletics in a way that male athletes are not, this is arguably another way in which firing a female coach is sex discrimination from the players’ point of view.