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Tuesday, May 26, 2009
Volleyball in, men's indoor track out

Associated Press

HARTFORD, Conn. -- Quinnipiac University reinstated its volleyball team Tuesday and dropped men's indoor track in response to an injunction issued last week in a gender equity lawsuit against the school.

The announcement came four days after U.S. Judge Stefan Underhill prevented the school from carrying out plans to eliminate the women's volleyball program, a move announced in March as part of budget cuts that also saw the elimination of men's outdoor track and golf.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut brought the lawsuit on behalf of the volleyball team and its coach, who argued that Quinnipiac isn't in compliance with the Title IX federal law mandating equal opportunities for female athletes.

Underhill found that the team is likely to win that argument, and also prohibited the university from eliminating any other women's teams or athletic participation opportunities until the lawsuit is decided.

University spokeswoman Lynn Bushnell declined to comment on the reason for eliminating the indoor track team, though school officials acknowledged during the court hearing that many of the athletes on that team also run cross country and outdoor track.

Andrew Schneider, executive director of the ACLU of Connecticut, said testimony at trial showed the budget cuts being sought by the school could be made without eliminating any teams.

"Therefore, today's decision to cut the men's indoor track team to keep the women's volleyball team is a false choice that unnecessarily pits men athletes against women athletes," he said.

University attorney Mary Gambardella had said reinstating women's volleyball would leave the school out of compliance with gender equity laws because men would be underrepresented.

Bushnell said the school still plans to elevate cheerleading to varsity status, which it had planned to do as a replacement for volleyball.

The school also announced Tuesday that it would immediately begin a comprehensive review of its offices of athletic compliance and the athletic director, to ensure that all participation numbers for its athletic teams are accurate.

During the federal court hearing, Athletic Director Jack McDonald and Tracey Flynn, the university's associate athletic director in charge of compliance, both acknowledged that some coaches were manipulating their rosters to improve reports the school submits to the U.S. Department of Education to meet gender equity goals.

The men's baseball and lacrosse teams would drop players before the reporting date, and reinstate the players again after the reports were submitted. The women's softball team would add players before the reporting date, knowing the additional players would not be on the team in the spring.

McDonald testified he would make sure that practice did not continue.

The school said the review would be conducted by Mark Thompson, the school's senior vice president for academic and student affairs, who "would make appropriate changes in the athletics department."

It was not immediately clear what impact the announcement would have on the lawsuit.

ACLU of Connecticut spokesman Patrick Doyle said the two sides have not discussed settling the lawsuit, but said his organization "is open to talking."

Bushnell would not say whether the school planned to renew the contract of volleyball coach Robin Sparks, who brought the lawsuit. Her one-year deal with the school expires in June.