Via Jarrett at HBCU Sports Blog, I learned that Delaware State University recently announced a decision to eliminate men's tennis and women's equestrian. The decision, which comes less than a year after announced elimination of the men's wrestling team, was made to help balance the athletics budget and to improve the competitiveness of the remaining teams. Unfortunately, as I told Jarrett, the elimination of women's equestrian almost certainly violates Title IX.
Title IX's regulations governing athletics require, among other things, equity in the number of athletic opportunities for members of each sex. A school must comply with that requirement in one of three ways: (1) substantial proportionality, (2) continuous expansion of opportunities for the underrepresented sex, and (3) full accommodation of the interests of the underrepresented sex. At DSU and most universities, women are the underrepresented sex. They constitute 60% of DSU's student body, but receive only 46%* of the athletic opportunities. Therefore, cutting a viable women's team necessarily violates the second and third prong: it is the opposite of program expansion for the underrepresented sex, and it results in lots of members of the underrepresented sex (the former athletes) with unmet interest. This leaves only one compliance prong left to consider: proportionality. Unfortunately in DSU's case, the cuts of men's tennis (6 opportunities) and women's equestrian (20 opportunities) makes their proportionality score worse, not better, as women would receive only 44% of opportunities and men 56%.*
If the equestrians sue, I predict they will win an injunction that would protect them from being eliminated. Unfortunately, this would put DSU in the position of having to make cuts elsewhere.
The unfortunate reality is that a great disparity existed in the proportion of athletic opportunities available to men and women. Because of that disparity, Title IX protects women from losing even more, leaving men's teams to bear the brunt of further cuts. Unfortunately, when this happens, people will blame Title IX for the cuts to men's teams. But both the gender disparity and the athletic department's budget problems are problems of DSU's creation, not Title IX's.
*Based on current participation figures reported to the Department of Education, adjusted for the announced elimination of wrestling.