After four years and five wins in the courts, the female volleyball players who sued Quinnipiac University for trying to eliminate their team and replace it with competitive cheerleading have secured a settlement that will help the entire women’s sports program. The settlement, announced today, requires Quinnipiac University to, among other things:

  • retain the volleyball team and all other women’s teams (the University added women’s golf and rugby recently and will help rugby evolve to the same competitive level as other sports);
  • increase scholarships for various women’s teams;
  • spend at least $5 million improving women’s athletic facilities, including locker rooms;
  • spend about $450,000 annually improving women’s coaching salaries, increasing coaches and academic support staff, and providing more athletic training services; and
  • allocate $175,000 during each of the next three years to a fund for additional improvements for women’s sports.

This case was very important in terms of setting precedent and providing guidance to schools across the country on several issues. First, there was a lot of fuzzy math that the court said was inappropriate. For example, the school double- and triple-counted students who were listed as members of the women’s cross-country, indoor track, and outdoor track teams, even though many of the women did not receive genuine participation opportunities on more than one of the teams. The law allows multi-sport athletes to be counted for each sport they play, but only if they are really playing.

Second, the court’s decision was the first to explain in detail how a school can show that it is providing female students with equal opportunities under the proportionality prong of Title IX’s three-part test. It debunked the notion that schools whose share of female participation opportunities is within a certain percentage of their share of enrollment are “safe,” and highlighted longstanding Department of Education guidance focusing on the number of additional opportunities that would need to be added for women and whether that number is sufficient to add one or more teams.

Finally, the Quinnipiac case was the first to address the issue of competitive cheer and whether it could be counted as a sport under Title IX. The court, relying on Department of Education guidance, ultimately held that it was not developed enough yet (in terms of recruiting, level of competition and playoff structure) to be counted for compliance purposes.

Thanks to the brave young women at Quinnipiac who took a stand, all female athletes at the university will benefit, and schools nationwide should take note of how the legal issues were resolved.

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