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William & Mary Athletics: The Path Forward

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    W&M Athletics:  By reinstating these sports, William & Mary will make significant progress toward achieving equity in participation in 2021-22.  
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Three women’s sports reinstated to advance Title IX equity

On Sept. 3, 2020, William & Mary announced the decision to discontinue seven of its 23 NCAA Division I varsity sports — Men’s and Women’s Gymnastics, Men’s and Women’s Swimming, Men’s Indoor and Outdoor Track & Field, and Women’s Volleyball — effective with the end of the 2020-21 academic year. The plan prepared by the Department of Athletics implemented discontinuations to address structural budget deficits exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and to begin remedying long-standing gender equity imbalances inconsistent with the requirements of Title IX.

Subsequently, the university received notice of intent to sue on the grounds that the announced plan, including the cuts and the associated roster adjustments in other sports, would not fully meet Title IX standards. After a detailed review, Interim Director of Athletics Jeremy Martin concluded that attainment of the anticipated roster adjustments was uncertain and the plan would not achieve equity in participation by next fall. To bring about decisive progress more swiftly, the three women’s sports would need to be restored.

Accordingly, the university is reinstating Women’s Gymnastics, Women’s Swimming and Women’s Volleyball, which will continue as Division I varsity sports. The university wants those teams to thrive and will treat them equitably with other varsity teams at the university. By reinstating these sports, William & Mary will make significant progress toward achieving equity in participation in 2021-22. Completing that progress will require reduction in the men’s program via roster management and retaining the current cuts to the men’s teams, or a swift and significant increase in participation opportunities for women, or both.

“We recognize the very substantial challenge but are committed to engaging those who bring substantive solutions,” Martin said. “Consistent with our phased approach to decision making under COVID-19, we will move swiftly to lay out the challenge and arrive at a decision for the 2021-2022 academic year.”

This assessment and decision come in the midst of an ongoing general review, directed by President Katherine A. Rowe, of the announced cuts. This review includes detailed discussions with representatives of each of the teams affected by the Sept. 3 announcement. Martin has accelerated that outreach, which will continue as outlined below.

“Achieving gender equity for the department has been an important goal throughout this process – one of the three critical challenges we aimed to address,” Rowe said. “We appreciate the question was pressed, and it prompted us to dig deeper and determine if the previous plan went far enough or fast enough. This  is an opportunity for us to do something decisive, consistent with our values, and I commend Interim Director Martin for working toward  a swift resolution under very difficult circumstances.”

While the adjustments to the plan announced today reinforce William & Mary’s wholehearted commitment to gender equity, the university recognizes that the Sept. 3 plan raised broader concerns that still need to be addressed.

Martin is outlining a calendar to work swiftly through each core issue and will continue his planned moderated conversations via videoconference over the coming weeks. The work he is charting also includes a path to financial stability, for which the department must find a sustainable, long-term solution. As a public institution in the Commonwealth of Virginia, intercollegiate athletics must be self-supporting, so sustainable funding from our donor community and increased revenue generation for every sport will be critical.

The W&M community also remains committed to excellence in athletics, yet still unresolved are which dimensions of excellence are most important in determining priorities across various sports, and how we define excellence as a Division I program. To begin, William & Mary will include excellence in athletics as part of ongoing efforts to seek broader community input on this important aspect of our institutional identity.

Consistent with the work outlined in Tribe 2025, W&M Athletics will pursue a robust process for completing a longer-term gender equity review this academic year, creating opportunities for input from all members of the W&M community who wish to engage. The review will result in a gender equity strategic plan that will ensure Title IX compliance during the 2022-23 academic year and beyond.

The Department of Athletics and University Advancement will work with the Tribe Club and the W&M Foundation to identify the financial needs of every varsity sport going forward, set targets and renew efforts to raise funds to sustain those programs. 

As a result of today’s announcement and decision, Martin said there is no clear and easy pathway to reinstate the four suspended men’s programs immediately, while making significant progress toward gender proportionality within the department. However, he added, the university remains committed to swiftly continuing conversations with those affected programs in order to look at every viable alternative before making a decision for the near term.

“We know that this process has caused pain,” Martin said. “We will need to continue rebuilding trust by our actions going forward. We have moved quickly over the last week to meet with students, coaches and alumni groups supporting alternative solutions for all the affected teams. We remain committed to that effort. William & Mary has a long history of emerging even stronger from adversity. With the help of our whole community, we will do just that.”