Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego announced last week that this year would be the last for four of its sports teams: men’s golf, men’s track, men’s cross country, and women’s softball. PLNU reportedly explained the cuts as necessary to achieve compliance with Title IX.
This explanation seems to make softball the scapegoat for the cuts. For 29 years, the university had an arrangement with the city to use city land at Sunset Cliffs Natural Park for the team’s former softball field. But the city voted in 2005 to return the land to its natural state as part of its master plan, causing the university to put its softball team off campus this year. No men’s teams must play off campus, so an anonymous complaint filed with the Office for Civil Rights apparently alleged that this disparity constituted unequal treatment in violation of Title IX.
The complaint is believed to have triggered the university’s decision to cut teams, as evidenced by students who believed that the complaint “backfired” on the women’s softball team. “We’d rather play in unfair circumstances than have the team completely done away with,” said one student quoted in the article linked above.
More likely, however, is that the university’s decision was about more than just Title IX compliance questions regarding the softball field. I believe that PLNU could have gotten OCR to resolve the complaint by agreeing to make plans for a permanent softball facility in the future. OCR would have retained jurisdiction and followed up some years down the road to make sure that a facility was coming along. This kind of flexibility is typical of the softball field cases we follow on this blog. Moreover, OCR’s public position is that cutting teams is a disfavored solution. I have never seen the agency encourage a university to cut teams as a way to achieve compliance.
Therefore, I don’t think that PNLU’s decision to cut teams was just about the softball complaint. I think it’s more likely that the athletic department had overextended itself financially and needed to pare down athletic offerings to stay within its budget. Because the school’s athletic offerings already disproportionately favored men (male students received 50% of the athletic opportunities while constituting 40% of the student body), Title IX necessarily factored into the decision of which teams to cut, as the law says cuts can’t fall more heavily on whichever sex has fewer opportunities to start with. But this is not the same thing as saying Title IX caused the cuts in the first place.
We are used to seeing the Title IX blame-game when universities cut teams. But this time it seems particularly egregious as a particular team has become the scapegoat for the demise of four teams including its own. PLNU should take the responsibility for the cuts off of its softball players and offer a real explanation for why can’t continue to fund all of its teams in an equitable and adequate manner.