Cut might prompt legal action

By Wes Swietek

NIU might be facing legal action if the Athletic Department goes ahead with its plans to drop the women’s field hockey program.

In reaction to NIU Athletic Director Gerald O’Dell’s recent proposal to the Executive Committee of the Athletic Board to cut field hockey and replace it with women’s soccer, supporters of field hockey are taking the offensive.

A Washington-based public interest organization, which has successfully prevented other schools from cutting women’s programs, confirmed that it has started looking into the situation at NIU.

Arthur Bryant, the executive director of Trial Lawyers for Public Justice in Washington D.C., confirmed that his organization is investigating whether NIU might be violating Title IX by cutting women’s field hockey.

In a letter to NIU President John La Tourette obtained by The Northern Star, University of Iowa head field hockey coach Elizabeth Beglin writes: “If (NIU) feel(s) that reconsideration is not possible please be advised that further action will be taken in the form of the filing of a Title IX complaint.”

Title IX is a federal law which mandates that institutions receiving federal funds must offer athletic opportunities to men and women in a way that mirrors the enrollment of the institution.

According to a recent NCAA report, NIU’s total undergraduate enrollment was 54 percent female while only 28 percent of all athletes were female, based on 1991 figures.

With the recent passage of the Civil Rights Restoration Act, schools which are found not to be in compliance with Title IX can be penalized with monetary damages.

“The (NIU) situation certainly sounds like a violation of Title IX,” Bryant said. “Although most schools are in violation, it’s a question of what we do about it.”

Bryant said that what his organization does is threaten legal action—a course of action which, according to Bryant, has led three schools to cancel plans to cut women’s programs.

Brown University, which tried to cut women’s gymnastics, is a recent example of a school that axed plans to cut a program after facing a lawsuit from Bryant’s organization.

A spate of recent rulings and court decisions have made Title IX the subject of renewed interest and several schools have been recently stopped from cutting programs. Cal-State Fullerton was hit with a court-ordered restraining order earlier this year when it tried to cut women’s volleyball.

The United States Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, in a landmark ruling, recently found Brooklyn College in violation of Title IX—the first time that an institution has been declared guilty of violating Title IX.

In February, the Department of Education released a proposed memorandum warning college presidents about violating sex-discrimination laws when eliminating programs.

Beglin, a member of the College Field Hockey Coaches Association, said adding women’s soccer would not alleviate the problem because the male-female athlete ratio at NIU will still be unbalanced. She said supporters of the program will continue to fight to prevent NIU from cutting the sport.

“The NIU administration is going to have more of a fight on their hands than they thought,” Beglin said.

O’Dell could not be reached for comment.