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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.

Go deeper

Kendall Baker, author of Sports
Nov 18, 2020 - Sports

Division I athletes reach 90% graduation rate

Courtesy: NCAA

College athletes continue to graduate at record rates and outperform non-athletes, according to the NCAA's latest Graduation Success Rate (GSR) report.

By the numbers: 90% of Division I athletes who enrolled in 2013 earned a degree within six years, up from 74% in 2002 — and an increase of 1% over last year's previous high.

Dan Primack, author of Pro Rata
2 hours ago - Economy & Business

New deals in the COVID economy

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

COVID-19 is the macro horror of our lifetimes, and has destroyed or severely damaged countless businesses. But, like with most horribles, it also has created some opportunities.

Driving the news: Merck this morning announced an agreement to buy OncoImmune, a Maryland-based biotech that showed promising late-stage clinical results for a therapy that treats severe and critical coronavirus cases.

2 hours ago - Technology

Biden's openings for tech progress

Photo illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images 

Item No. 1 on President-elect Joe Biden's day-one tech agenda, controlling the flood of misinformation online, offers no fast fixes — but other tech issues facing the new administration hold out opportunities for quick action and concrete progress.

What to watch: Closing the digital divide will be a high priority, as the pandemic has exposed how many Americans still lack reliable in-home internet connections and the devices needed to work and learn remotely.