UConn reinstates rowing after Title IX challenge

STORRS, Conn. — The University of Connecticut has reversed course on a controversial budget cut, announcing it will keep its women’s rowing program for at least the next two years.

The move, announced Thursday night, comes after a federal judge issued a temporary restraining order in May that prevented the school from dissolving the team at the end of this past season.

U.S. District Judge Stefan Underhill ruled rowers were likely to prevail in their lawsuit, which alleges eliminating the team would violate Title IX, the federal law that guarantees equal access to women in education, including athletics.

“We continue, as we must, to assess our compliance with Title IX and we have determined that additional participation opportunities for female student athletes are necessary at this time,” the school said in a statement. “Accordingly, we have agreed to reinstate the women’s rowing team for two years and to stay the pending litigation initiated by members of the rowing team. During this time, we will conduct a more detailed assessment of the costs associated with possible program upgrades and work to secure the potential long-term reinstatement of the rowing program.”

Messages were left Friday seeking comment from rowing coach Jennifer Sanford and rowers who filed the lawsuit.

UConn announced the decision to eliminate the team in June 2020, saying it needed to reduce its $42 million athletic deficit by about $10 million a year, cutting the need for a subsidy to the athletic department by 25% over the next three years. The school decided to eliminate women’s rowing, men’s swimming and diving, men’s cross country and men’s tennis at the end of this school year.

The school said it considered the civil rights implications before making that move.

According to the school’s annual filing with the NCAA, the rowing team has a roster of 38 rowers but had 62 participants in the program and operating expenses totaling $1,345,104 in the 2020 fiscal year. UConn rowing gave at least partial scholarships to 32 rowers at a cost of $713,417 and its coaches earned a total of $196,575, according to the report.

Underhill found compelling evidence that UConn has been inflating the numbers of participants in its women’s programs to make it appear it was complying with the law. He also wrote that the evidence presented in court during a hearing last week also showed UConn experienced participation gaps each year for the past 13 years.

UConn said the original decision to eliminate the rowing team stemmed in part from a determination that major and costly repairs would be needed to the program’s privately owned boathouse on Coventry Lake.

“UConn takes pride in being a destination school for female athletes and as we continually review our responsibilities under Title IX, we will work to support the rowing team in its upcoming seasons, including, among other steps, by identifying immediate facilities improvements that would be achievable in the near term,” the school said.

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