Nov 4, 2020 - Sports

William & Mary's track and field women fight to reinstate the men's team

Image of people walking into a large door with a statue in the foreground

The College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Va. Photo: Jeffrey Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

In an act of both solidarity and protest, the College of William & Mary women's track and field team is boycotting the season until the recently cut men's team is reinstated.

The state of play: W&M is hardly the first school to make pandemic-related cuts, but this time, the 26 women on the team took what they've learned at the school and used it to fight back.

The backdrop: W&M cut seven athletic programs in September — four men's, three women's. But after it was threatened with a Title IX lawsuit, it reinstated the women's gymnastics, swimming and volleyball teams.

  • Teams that remain cut: Men's gymnastics, swimming and both indoor and outdoor track & field.
  • Samantha Huge, the school's athletic director at the time, was ousted amid the backlash against both her decision and how it was communicated, which included plagiarism of Stanford's similar announcement back in July.
  • Worth noting: Men's cross country avoided the axe in part because they've won 20 straight conference championships.

Between the lines: Title IX promises equitable, not equal, treatment on the basis of sex. A school's athletic makeup needn't be a 50-50 split, but rather reflect the student population as a whole.

  • W&M is nearly 60% women, so Title IX compliance means the athletic department must look the same.
  • Women runners are thus particularly valuable, as one person can count for as many as three tallies (cross country, indoor and outdoor track). That means a single distance runner offsets three, say, football players.

What they're saying: When the women's teams were reinstated, interim AD Jeremy Martin made them feel like pawns, not athletes, distance runner Lauren Finikiotis tells Axios.

  • "He never said, 'We value your sport — what you can do in the pool, on the court, on the track.' He just said we need you here to be Title IX compliant."
  • "If you want us to be confident and go out into society and represent William & Mary, how am I supposed to do that if this school makes it clear I'm only here so that a man can play a sport?"
  • "Taking opportunities away from men to achieve gender equity is missing the point. If there's a compliance issue, they should give opportunities to women instead of taking them away from their male counterparts."

The bottom line: Finikiotis and her teammates love their school, so they're fighting for it to better represent how they've seen it all along.

  • "As William & Mary students," she said, "this is what we're encouraged to do; this is what we're taught to do." Seems like a job well done.
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