YPSILANTI, Mich. – Two former female athletes from Eastern Michigan University's softball and women's tennis programs are suing the school for eliminating the programs.
The elimination of the two sports is part of the budget cuts the university made in efforts to reduce the athletic budget by $2.4 million, EMU representatives said in a news release. The athletic program was reduced from 21 to 17 sports, including the elimination of the men's wrestling and swimming and diving programs.
The lawsuit was filed on June 15 in federal court by former women's tennis team member Marie Mayerova and softball team member Ariana Chretien, who claim EMU is not providing effective accommodation to female student-athletes. Mayerova and Chretien argue that the cuts made to the athletic program do not follow Title IX guidelines.
The NCAA's Title IX laws dictate that universities must "fully and effectively accommodate the interests and abilities of the underrepresented sex," the female student-athletes' attorney, Jill Zwagerman, said. She claims this was not done by the elimination of two women's sports programs.
"The decision to eliminate four sports programs was extremely difficult," EMU representatives said. "We recognize how difficult this decision has been for the 83 student athletes, 58 male and 25 female, who were participating in the four canceled sports. We have great respect for all of them, including the two students involved in the lawsuit. Of the 83 students initially affected by the decision, several have graduated and others have moved on to other schools."
The university announced in March that the four programs would be ending at the end of the 2018 spring season. The announcement came as a surprise for the athletes affected by the budget cuts.
Players from the teams are forced to either transfer to other schools or stay at the university but not play the sport anymore. This is a difficult choice for many student-athletes, particularly for foreign students who are attending the university with visas. Those athletes have the options of withdrawing from EMU or staying but not being able to play the sport they have been playing since they were younger. If they choose to withdraw from EMU, they would have to give up their visas, return to their home country and restart the application process, hoping to find a new school to play at before the next season begins.
"The student-athletes affected by this are our priority. We will honor all athletics scholarships for the students should they decide to remain at Eastern to complete their degrees, which we hope they will," EMU representatives said.
Eastern Michigan University is currently reviewing the lawsuit carefully and will respond further at a later time, the university said.