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At their final home game of the season, on Feb. 27, William and Mary's women basketball players plan to replace their regular warmup shirts with ones that read: WHAT IS TITLE IX? The future of their program may depend on the answer.
The school administration announced cost-cutting plans last week to eliminate women's basketball, along with wrestling and men's and women's swimming, at the end of the school year. The women's basketball team has retained lawyer Arthur Bryant to contest the decision.
Bryant has a strong track record in such cases. He successfully represented the Oklahoma women's team last year after the school tried—and failed—to abolish women's basketball. At the heart of his case is Title IX, the federal legislation that prohibits sex discrimination in educational programs or activities at schools receiving federal funds. He will argue, as he did in Oklahoma, that Title IX requires a school offering a contact sport for men to offer the same sport for women if there is sufficient interest among students to field a viable team. The William and Mary administration says the school is required only to offer the same number of contact sports for men and women.
It would be unfair to cast the administrators as sexist villains. Athletic director John Randolph points out that William and Mary would still be offering 21 varsity sports (11 men's, 10 women's), and that the $230,000 saved by dropping women's basketball would be spent on other women's sports in which the Tribe is more competitive. The women's basketball team, 42-115 over the last six seasons, has been "the most expensive and least successful" of the school's nonrevenue-producing teams, according to associate athletic director Millie West.
But it's hard to argue with the women players' contention that the nonrevenue sports bear too much of the cost-cutting load. Says junior Susan Lyon, an injured forward who is leading the fight to save the program, "The question is, Do you support a few teams being treated like royalty or do you support having a lot of students getting a chance to participate?"
If William and Mary supports the latter, it will reverse a decision that violates the spirit, if not the letter, of Title IX.