MSU women's swim team members file lawsuit accusing university of discrimination

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Posted at 1:25 PM, Jan 18, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-18 21:19:06-05

(WXYZ) — Michigan State University swimmers are suing the school following the announcement that swimming and diving will be eliminated after this year.

MSU’s athletic director announced in October that due to budget issues, the swimming program would be cut.

The announcement cited the decision as one that would better position Spartan Athletics for long-term financial stability, also mentioning that the school’s only regulation pool was in disrepair.

On Friday, more than half a dozen members of the women’s swim and diving team filed a lawsuit saying this is a Title IX issue, not a budget issue.

Attorney Jill Zwagerman has fought and won lawsuits similar to this one. She says more than half the student body at MSU is female, but there are far more athletic opportunities for men. Zwagerman says MSU’s decision reflects a national pattern of universities targeting women’s athletic teams whenever budgets get tight.

“Both my parents were collegiate swimmers, that’s how they met and how I guess my story started. Not to be too cheesy,” says Michigan State University Junior Madeline Reilly.

Reilly is from the East Coast and says she was courted by other university swim teams. She says she chose to swim at MSU because of the quality program and the academic rigor.

When the pandemic first hit, she and her team worried about what it meant for their futures as athletes, but Reilly attended many virtual “Breakfast with Bill” Zoom meetings hosted by the athletic director and was reassured.

“All throughout the summer and beginning of the fall, we asked Bill Beekman. And he reassured us that the elimination of teams would never be an issue,” says Reilly.

Then, in October, Beekman announced the swim and diving program would be eliminated. This current season would be its last.

“We never saw this coming,” says Reilly. “We were completely misinformed throughout this entire time.”

Beekman said in his announcement the university athletics department was struggling financially and that one pool is in disrepair, the other isn’t the right size.

“Our pool is 6 lanes, it’s 25 yards,” says Emma Inch, a sophomore on MSU’s swim team. “It’s a regulation sized pool in the NCAA guidelines.

Inch says that although it isn't the top collegiate pool in the country, it is adequate for their needs.

Beekman said the swim team being eliminated is a budget issue.

“The budget issue is not a defense to Title IX,” Zwagerman says, who adds the university is now in severe violation.

“Prior to cutting swimming and diving, they needed to add 42 women to be in compliance. That’s an entire team. They actually needed to add another team before they decided to cut swimming and diving,” says Zwagerman.

What Zwagerman says is even worse: MSU has allegedly been padding teams in an attempt to appear as though they are complying with Title IX. She alleges that women are added to the team for numbers only and then not allowed to compete.

“There’s a significant amount of cross country runners who aren’t participating in any cross country meets but they are being counted like they are,” says Zwagerman.

The lawsuit, which includes about a half dozen swimmers, asks for the women’s swim team to be reinstated at MSU. It also asks that the school be forced to comply with Title 9 across the entire athletics department in regards to participation, scholarships and treatment of female athletes.

“We’re tired of our voices being silenced. We want to be heard and we want the ability for female athletes all over the world to compete,” says Reilly.

Zwagerman says she has recently won cases similar to this one, which makes a difference not just for women at one particular university, but sets precedent for women’s athletics nationwide.