Cut Programs, Controversy, Confusion, and Title IX
“My frustration isn't rooted as much in the decision to cut the program, as it is in the way in which it was handled,” said Senior Corey Hall, a former standout on the Men’s lacrosse team.
Furman, like many universities, has struggled to balance its checkbook in the time of the COVID-19 pandemic. Unfortunately for the athletes, alumni, staff, and fans of Furman’s Men’s lacrosse and baseball programs, the solution was to permanently disband their teams.
In an email sent to the student body on May 18, 2020, President Elizabeth Davis announced that Furman and Athletics Director Jason Donnelly, supported unanimously by the board of trustees, would immediately end both the Men’s lacrosse and baseball programs.
“My frustration isn't rooted as much in the decision to cut the program, as it is in the way in which it was handled,” said Senior Corey Hall, a former standout on the Men’s lacrosse team. Hall and other former players recall a meeting almost a month prior to the official announcement in which the athletics department made their commitment to the team clear. Furman made its decision only weeks later, shocking players and families. For players, staff, and students, a financial crisis did not seem reason enough to immediately write off Furman’s longest standing team, baseball, and newest team, Men’s lacrosse.
Students and community fans were quick to comment on the lopsided decision, curious as to why Furman chose to cut two men’s programs instead of both a men’s and a women’s program. As frustration grew, students and former players came forward to question Furman’s decision, apparently rooted in Title IX equality regulations.
While Title IX requires that “women and men be provided equitable opportunities to participate in sports,” their regulations explicitly mandate that a university must “provide participation opportunities for women and men that are substantially proportionate to their respective rates of enrollment.”
This means that while Furman does not have to provide each individual sport for both men and women, they do have to provide a number of sports for each gender that corresponds to the student body’s gender ratios. Furman, like many other schools, has a much higher proportion of women, and cannot cut a women’s sport without violating Title IX’s regulations.
“Title IX gender proportionality was not made clear to us [as a reason for the decision] at all,” said Joey Murphy, a former Lacrosse player, shedding light on Furman’s lack of communication to the parties most directly affected. Murphy and Hall both expressed questions about Furman’s apparent imbalances in the number of programs per gender, knowing that Title IX requires a university to offer a proportional number of sports for its population’s gender ratios.
Prior to the end of the men’s programs, Furman Athletics had nine sports for both men and women, making the number of programs offered disproportionate to the student body’s gender ratios. However, the intricacies of Title IX indicate that a university must accommodate the interests and abilities of the underrepresented sex. A “broad variation in the type and number of sports opportunities offered to each gender are permitted,” meaning that a higher number of men’s sports, even with a lower proportion of men in the student body, is allowed.
The complicated nature of the Title IX regulations and Furman Athletics’ sudden decision prompted strong responses from students and community members who began to raise money and lobby against Furman for the return of their teams, however, the support has not changed Furman’s mind. “There are currently no plans to reinstate – or prevent the reinstatement of – a male sports program,” said Furman Athletics in response to questions about the possibility of such a return. While the pandemic remains unpredictable, we know with certainty that Furman will not see a spring baseball or lacrosse game in the near future.
Therefore, Furman’s long-standing Latham Baseball Stadium and the recently dedicated Jackson Roberts Lacrosse Locker Room will remain empty, leaving behind two of Furman Athletics’ most prized legacies.