Quinnipiac University volleyball players are challenging the university’s recent decision to cut their sport. Their lawyers at the ACLU filed suit this week in federal court, arguing that the loss of women’s volleyball is a clear violation of Title IX because Quinnipiac does not offer women athletic opportunities in numbers proportionate to their percentage of the student body. According to the ACLU’s press release, Quinnipiac’s student body is 50% female, but women receive only 38% of athletic opportunities. Even taking into account Quinnipiac’s plans to cut men’s teams (track and golf), the plaintiffs allege, those cuts do not offset the existing disparity made worse by the loss of 12-15 opportunities in women’s volleyball.
While proportionality is just one of three alternatives that schools may use to demonstrate compliance in the number athletic opportunities offered for men and women, cutting a viable women’s team necessarily renders the school ineligible for compliance the other two tests. (Prong two requires history and continuing practice of expanding opportunities for women, and prong three requires enough opportunities to satisfy women with an interest and ability in sports.)
Quinnipiac’s complaint does not refer to the university’s announced plans to add women’s cheerleading as a varsity sport. Presumably, this issue will be raised as part of the university’s defense. If cheerleading offers enough participation opportunities to put Quinnipiac in proportionality compliance, the question will be whether cheerleading “counts” as a sport for Title IX — an issue no court has yet to consider.