Feds? That’s not good.

Cutting four sports at Eastern Michigan isn’t fun for anybody. It wasn’t at the time and it’s only getting worse as time goes on. Now, federal investigators are looking to see if the university is wrongfully offering more athletic opportunities for males than it is females.

In EMU’s statement, the university said it’ll cooperate with the Office of Civil Rights’ inquiry to investigate.

The statement, in full:

Eastern Michigan University will cooperate fully with the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) inquiry.

The University has filed a motion to stay the Title IX lawsuit, which was filed on June 15, with the federal court, pending the completion of the OCR investigation.

The reasons for this filing are laid out in the motion, and they center on the fact the Title IX complaint and OCR complaint raise identical issues that are uniquely within the expertise of the OCR and over which it has broad authority.

In order to avoid duplicative proceedings and the risk that Eastern could be exposed to inconsistent directives from the court and the OCR, as well as take advantage of the OCR’s expertise in matters of gender equity, the University is arguing that the court should stay the lawsuit pending the resolution of the OCR administrative investigation.

As we have stated previously, the decision to eliminate four sports programs was extremely difficult. We initiated the action to reduce expenses in athletics consistent with strategic reductions across the university. These efforts are part of a comprehensive process to realign our budget to ensure our ability to continue to invest in key priority areas, such as high demand academic programs that meet the needs of today’s employers, and to modernize the facilities in which the programs are taught. 

It is important to note that previously Eastern had 21 sports, which was more than any other university in the Mid-American Conference(MAC). We do not have the largest budget. In fact, we have one of the smallest. Our new total of 17 sports puts us in the middle of the pack of the MAC and allows us to provide a solid level of support for each of the 17 programs.   

We recognize how difficult this decision has been for the 83 student athletes (58 male and 25 female) who were participating in the four canceled sports. We have great respect for all of them, including the two students involved in the lawsuit. Of the 83 students initially affected by the decision, several have graduated and others have moved on to other schools. 

It is important to note, all of the student-athletes in the affected sports were offered the opportunity to continue to attend Eastern on their athletic scholarships, assuming they met academic requirements, until they graduate. In many cases, scholarships for those students are equal to the full price of their tuition.  

While EMU believes the figures in the Complaint understate women’s participation in athletics, the plaintiffs have admitted that the net effect of the March decision to eliminate four sports will be to greatly reduce any gender disparity that may have previously existed. It is important to note that following the sports reductions, Eastern now maintains 10 female teams and 7 male teams.

We believe our budgetary actions in this matter are wholly appropriate and justified. We are currently carefully reviewing the lawsuit and will respond further at the appropriate time and manner. 

Eastern Michigan University is committed to an environment of non-discrimination, and works hard to maintain and expand that commitment as evidenced by our non-discrimination statement:

Eastern Michigan University does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, ethnic or national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, age, ancestry, disability, military status, veteran status or other non-merit reasons, in admissions, educational programs or activities and employment and complies with all applicable federal and state laws regarding nondiscrimination and affirmative action, including Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act.

The lawsuit was filed by two former female athletes at EMU: Marie Mayerova and Ariana Chretien. In a report by The Detroit News, Mayerova’s good enough to still play her senior season of tennis as a college athlete elsewhere, but she’s from the Czech Republic, so she’d have to go home and go through the visa process again. And if she did that, then she probably wouldn’t even be able to play next season, so that’s counter-intuitive. As for Chretien, she’s a 19-year old aviation major, which is a difficult program to come by at other universities.

This is not a story that’ll just blow over with the pace of the 24-hour news cycle. It’s also not a story that’ll take football off EMU’s campus, either. The university has already been sued by two alums, Doug and Mary Willer, who are were boosters for the wrestling team and said that EMU  violated the Open Meetings Act in March when the teams were officially cut. People are still protesting the move even though EMU can’t (and won’t) go back on its original decision — plus, a good chunk of those athletes that would’ve been around next season are already gone.

Lawsuits and protests were to be expected, but having the feds come in for an investigation is another stain that EMU has to wear, which is very obviously bad for an athletics department that’s been hurting for honest-to-goodness, proud, organic tradition for decades.

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