EAST LANSING, Mich. — The swim and dive team at Michigan State University was a big part of many student's lives until the program got cut in 2020. Now, 11 of those swimmers are taking action.
“It was something that me and my teammates have just put our lives into for as long as we can remember,” said former MSU swimmer, Ava Boutrous.
Boutrous has been swimming since she was 6 years old. She went to MSU to continue her passion until the team got cut her sophomore year in October 2020.
“It’s very depressing, but just when it comes to low-income sports, I think people just really kind of forget about you sometimes,” she said.
So in 2021, she and 10 former members of the women's team decided to file a Title IX lawsuit against the university. Title IX is the 1972 federal law that prohibits sex discrimination in education.
The lawsuit says that, although MSU cut both the men's and women's swimming and diving teams, the decision had a disproportionate effect on women.
“So the way Title IX works is you have to look at Michigan State's complete student body population separated into males and females. And then your athletic department has to mirror that percentage-wise,” said employment, discrimination and civil rights lawyer Jill Zwagerman, who is representing Boutrous and the 10 other members.
MSU filed a response to the lawsuit arguing that, “MSU’s data shows that female participation counts are, in fact, substantially proportional to its female undergraduate enrollment, as Title IX requires.”
They also argued that there is no private right of action under Title IX to challenge the gender-neutral decision to eliminate the combined men's and women’s swimming and dive team.
According to MSU, the program was cut in order to save money.
“They also had no problem finding money for coach Tucker, as good as he was, you know, a $95 million contract for 10 years, and yet they can't afford to support the Olympic sports, you know, I worry what they would cut next, would it be wrestling? Would it be track?” said Mike Balow, who is running as a Republican for a seat on the MSU Board of Trustees.
Balow’s daughter, Sophia Balow, is one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, and while he supports the reinstatement, he said it is not his only reason for running.
“Michigan State is a great school and a beautiful place. But in a lot of ways it's like a beautiful cruise ship that is a really bad captain right now that we need to think about replacing,” he said.
FOX 47 reached out to MSU Spokesperson Dan Olsen, but he said he can not comment on pending litigation.
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