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'Restoring trust' prioritized at W&M, which faces potential suit associated with sports cuts

'Restoring trust' prioritized at W&M, which faces potential suit associated with sports cuts

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William & Mary’s president, Katherine A. Rowe, fortified the Tribe’s athletics communications department this week as the school continued to try to get out from the shadow it cast with statements regarding the discontinuation of seven sports.

Also, a national law firm has threatened legal action unless three women’s teams designated for elimination are preserved, or the school reveals plans to address Title IX issues.

William & Mary’s Sept. 3 releases on the topic contained several similarities to Stanford releases in early July after that school cut 11 sports. W&M’s explanations closely followed many of the themes emphasized by Stanford, and were similarly worded in some cases.

Subsequently, W&M athletics director Samantha Huge acknowledged the statements “clearly fell short of the William & Mary community’s standards.” Rowe, in a Wednesday letter to students, faculty and staff, suggested the error was linked to athletics communications personnel, and made a move to improve that department.

“Many of the athletic departments that have eliminated sports share freely with one another in an effort to use best practices and approaches, and learn from each iteration,” Rowe wrote. “The main purpose of consultation was to ensure the utmost clarity and compassion in communicating very distressing news.

“That said, words representing William & Mary should come from William & Mary.”

She accepted responsibility for failing to lead a thorough review process prior to the school’s releases. Rowe then announced that Gen. Jim Golden, W&M’s former vice president for strategic initiatives and assistant to the president, will “help guide strategic communications in athletics in the near term. His immediate charge will be to partner with Director Huge to review athletics communications practices, improve them, and ensure we speak to the concerns of the William & Mary athletics community at this critical time.

“I have expressed to Director Huge that her top priority for athletics going forward needs to be restoring trust.”

In a move William & Mary said was based on finances, men’s and women’s gymnastics, men’s and women’s swimming, men’s indoor and outdoor track and field, and women’s volleyball will be eliminated following this school year. The seven programs have about 120 student-athletes and 13 coaches.

The cuts will leave William & Mary with 16 sports, which is about the norm for comparable Division I schools in Virginia. The University of Richmond has 16, James Madison has 17 and Old Dominion University has 18. Division I schools are required to have a minimum of 14 teams (seven for men and seven for women, or six for men and eight for women).

When W&M announced the cuts, its release included, “The discontinuation of these seven sports and other associated actions assures Title IX compliance.”

Objecting is the law firm of Bailey Glasser, which sent Rowe a letter dated Sept. 23. It informed her that the organization has been retained by the women’s gymnastics, volleyball and swimming teams to prevent their elimination.

Bailey Glasser wrote that, if necessary, it will “pursue a class action lawsuit against William & Mary College for depriving women athletes and potential athletes of equal opportunities, athletic financial aid, and treatment in violation of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.”

The violation is based on the percentage of women at William & Mary as it relates to the percentage of athletics participation opportunities available to women following the cuts, according to the firm. Bailey Glasser says it will seek a preliminary injunction to continue the teams unless W&M chooses to do so, or provides details of Title IX compliance.

“It is my hope that William & Mary, in its wisdom, will decide to preserve the women’s gymnastics, swimming, and volleyball teams and avoid being sued,” wrote Arthur H. Bryant, the Bailey Glasser attorney who composed the letter.

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