Michigan State swimming and diving potentially gets help in fight to save programs

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News
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As members of the Michigan State swimming team work toward saving their program, they got an assist on Thursday from the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Justice.

In an amicus brief filed Wednesday in the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, attorneys for the departments of Education and Justice argue a previous ruling by the U.S. District Court in the Western District of Michigan erred when Judge Hala Y. Jarbou did not grant the MSU women's team the preliminary injunction to keep the team, pending the outcome of the case.

Michigan State announced in October that it was eliminating men's and women's swimming and diving.

According to the brief, the District Court did not apply the correct tests to determine whether Michigan State was violating Title IX laws by eliminating the women’s program.

“Because the district court failed to undertake the correct analysis to determine whether MSU’s participation gap could sustain a viable team, and misinterpreted prong one of the Three-Part Test in several significant respects,” the brief read, “this Court should correct the district court’s error and remand for further proceedings consistent with this Court’s opinion.”

In late October of 2020, Michigan State athletic director Bill Beekman announced the school was eliminating the men’s and women’s swimming and diving programs. At the time, Beekman said the decision was made both for financial and infrastructure reasons exacerbated by revenue declines created by the COVID-19 pandemic.

During a virtual town hall last week with current and former team members and some parents, Beekman reiterated the concerns along with what he said was a lack of success in competition while also focusing on the outdated facilities at the IM West building as well as the closing of the outdoor pool.

Beekman did say he was open to another meeting with members of the group called “Battle for Michigan State Swimming and Diving,” where specific ideas to save the program would be discussed.

In the meantime, the legal avenue is continuing to be explored by the group. They appealed the original District Court decision in February and Wednesday’s filing could help sway things in their favor.

“We are extremely grateful and excited to have such an extraordinary list of organizations support our cause,” said Jill Zwagerman, attorney for the plaintiffs. “This is a truly important issue that will affect thousands of female student-athletes around the country, so we very much appreciate their help in providing guidance to the Court. Our immediate goal is to get swimming and diving reinstated, and this is a great step in this process.”

Michigan State spokesperson Emily Guerrant declined comment on the filing of the brief, but added, "We feel we have not violated any Title IX policies in our decision to end swim and dive at MSU. We will continue to address this through the legal process."

At the core of the filing is the contention that Michigan State failed to meet one aspect that asks “whether intercollegiate level participation opportunities for male and female students are provided in numbers substantially proportionate to their respective enrollments.”

It’s that criteria the group says Michigan State is failing to meet.

The brief was signed by Emma Leheny, Principal Deputy General Counsel for the Department of Education, and Pamela S. Karlan, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Department of Justice in the Civil Rights Division.

Outside of the courtroom, members of “Battle for Michigan State Swimming and Diving” are hoping reversals at several schools around the nation will help with momentum in saving the MSU program. Already, schools like Iowa, Clemson, Dartmouth, William and Mary, and East Carolina have reinstated the swimming and diving programs while Stanford announced it was reinstating 11 programs it had announced it would cut, including synchronized swimming.

mcharboneau@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @mattcharboneau

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