Delaware State Axes Equestrian Team, Possibly Violating Title IX

Why would the school make greater cuts in women’s sports than in men’s?

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By Bonnie Erbe, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

Now here's a Title IX lawsuit after my own heart. The Women's Law Project, a Philadelphia-based group suing in behalf of women's rights, has filed suit against Delaware State University for deciding to eliminate its equestrian team at the end of this school year.

This suit resonates with me because I, too, compete in equestrian sports and I know what an incredible confidence-builder it can be for young women. But here's where the plot thickens. Delaware State is a Historically Black College/University or HBCU. African-Americans participate in the kind of equestrian sport in which I participate, hunter-jumper shows--in percentages much lower than their representation in the general U.S. population. So why Delaware State would have an equestrian team is somewhat of a mystery to me.

Apparently the sport was important enough to DSU to recruit and give out 20 scholarships to female students who were already accomplished equestrians. At the same time as those 20 positions were cut, so were six tennis scholarships for men. But according to one legal analyst points out, these cuts put the school even further out of whack with the proportionality in spending on men's and women's sports required by Title IX:

Student body breakdown, based on the EADA stats, is 40 percent male and 60 percent female. Proportionality requires a similar breakdown of athletic opportunities. Before the cuts, athletic opportunities were distributed 56 percent men, 44 percent women, a 16 percentage point disparity. The cut of tennis (6) would bring the total number of male opportunities from 226 to 220, 58 percent of total. Cutting equestrian (20) brings women's opportunities from 177 to 157, 42 percent of the total. Now the disparity is 18 percentage points, nowhere close to substantial proportionality. So, since none of the three prongs are satisfied, DSU's decision to cut equestrian is a clear violation of Title IX's requirement for equity in the number of opportunities.

The school is blaming budget cuts for the elimination of men's tennis and women's equestrian sports. But questions remain: why would DSU create a women's team in a sport not very popular with African-American women (perhaps to draw more of them into the sport)? And why would a school already apparently so out of compliance with Title IX, make greater cuts in women's sports in times of economic trouble, than in men's sports?