Eastern Michigan has hired a new women's tennis coach and plans to reinstate the program for competition this spring, the direct result of a lawsuit filed by two student-athletes claiming the decision earlier this year to eliminate two female sports teams violated the spirit of Title IX legislation.
University lawyers and attorneys for the two student-athletes held their latest conference call Tuesday afternoon, in an effort to resolve the situation following a judge's decision in October to grant a preliminary injunction following the school's announcement in March that it was cutting women's tennis and women's softball.
There was no immediate word about the future of softball when the university issued a statement Tuesday.
The statement read:
"Eastern Michigan University continues to work productively with the plaintiffs and the court in the Title IX lawsuit, as well as other campus constituencies, to develop viable opportunities for increasing women’s athletic participation. As an initial step, we have hired a tennis coach and are proceeding to bring back that sport for spring 2019. We plan to continue to work with the plaintiffs and the court to identify practical permanent solutions that keep the university in compliance with our federal responsibilities and provide the best environment for our students."
University officials said the tennis coach would be introduced later this week.
The university held informal meetings earlier this month for athletes interested in playing tennis or softball. The tennis meeting drew one participant, while softball had 18 participants.
In June, tennis player Marie Mayerova and softball player Ariana Chretien filed a lawsuit against the university saying the decision to cut the two sports teams violated Title IX. And in late September, Judge George Caram Steeh of the U.S. District Court Eastern District of Michigan, in Ypsilanti, agreed with them. Steeh wrote that financial hardships weren't an excuse to limit athletic opportunities for female student athletes.
Eastern's student body is majority female, which its athletes are disproportionately male, according to all recent numbers from the U.S. Department of Education.
Steeh ordered the university and the athletes to work together to reach a resolution.
The university cited budget concerns, in March, in cutting tennis and softball, and men's wrestling and men's swimming and diving. Officials said the cuts would save the athletic department as much as $2.4 million per year. The long-suffering and heavily subsidized football program was spared, drawing increased outcry.
Tuesday marked the second conference session between the athletes and the university, following the October ruling.
It's unclear if tennis will compete in the Mid-American Conference, as Eastern's other sports teams do. Lawyers for the athletes said in October that the MAC was refusing to reinstate tennis and softball to the conference's spring schedule; the MAC's commissioner disputed that.
Lawyers for the two athletes didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.