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After sports cuts, a Title IX review

Complaint by rowing alumna led to Office for Civil Rights investigation.

The U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights is investigating the university for possible failure in providing equal opportunities for its female student-athletes, according to an email President Theobald sent to coaches and Board of Trustees members on Feb. 11.

The email said the inquiry into the university is regarding locker rooms, facilities, financial assistance, housing and dining. A spokesperson for the T7, an organization formed to fight the athletic cuts, said the complaint was filed on Dec. 20 by a rowing alumna in an effort to begin a mediation with the university to reinstate the teams. The T7 denied any involvement in the filing of the complaint, but confirmed that the two parties have been in communication with each other.

The investigation was first reported by the Inquirer.

Failure to meet Title IX standards was one of the primary reasons the administration said it used in its decision to cut seven sports in December. The OCR discourages athletic cuts because it is “contrary to the spirit of Title IX,” according to a spokesperson. Federal funding has never been denied to Temple or any other non-compliant university since Title IX, the gender-equity law, was passed in 1972.

While Theobald said in a phone interview that the ideal solution to the university’s Title IX problem would have been to simply add more female sports, to do so in Temple’s situation would not have been feasible due to the university “overreaching by trying to operate 24 sports with a modest budget.”

Theobald said the administration is taking the investigation “extremely seriously,” as he maintains that the athletic cuts are “the right decision.”

“We’re not in the least bit surprised that this occurred,” Theobald said.

In his email to the board, Theobald also provided an update on the administrative review that has occurred since he met with representatives of the cut teams on Jan. 28.

No new information was provided in the email on a suggested renovation of the East Park Canoe House that could spare the men’s crew and women’s rowing programs from elimination. However, representatives of the teams were told they would receive an answer on the administration’s reconsideration of the renovation.

“We are leaving no stone unturned,” Theobald said. “There are five sports that clearly were tied to our overreach. The only issue to rowing and crew was that they were using tents in a parking lot and Port-a-Potties as their locker room. That’s not acceptable. We are looking at every possibility there.”

When addressing the board in the email, Theobald said a recommendation was approved at the time of the cuts to convert softball, men’s crew and women’s rowing to club sports. Theobald said on Jan. 28 that the university would bridge-fund the cut programs to allow them to compete as club sports.

Among the most prominent suggestions made by members of the baseball team is the continued use of Campbell’s Field, a Rutgers-owned facility located in Camden, N.J. Last fall, Temple secured a one-year deal to play 11 of its 20 home games at the stadium. Theobald said in the email that the university is paying $2,000 per game to use the facility and cited potential scheduling issues due to space being shared with other teams. St. Joseph’s played all of its home games from 2010-11 at Campbell’s Field.

Temple, which has a contract for its football program with Lincoln Financial Field, has also considered a partnership with the Philadelphia Phillies, Theobald said. In return for using the Phillies’ facilities, student-athletes would be required to run clinics and manage an urban youth outreach program. Theobald said additional staff would be necessary for such a venture, and that the university “does not have the resources to hire the additional staff required to make this option viable.”

There have been other suggestions for potential baseball and softball locations, as Theobald said the university has consulted the Smith Group – Temple’s master planners – to assess such options. The group concluded that in order to bring the locations to Division I standards, the venture would be a “substantial” financial investment. One of the proposed fields is Richie Ashburn Field at FDR Park, which Villanova used for four years until 2002.

The men’s gymnastics team currently shares space with the women’s gymnastics team. Although coach Fred Turoff and student-athletes say facilities are not a significant enough reason to warrant the cuts, Theobald remains skeptical.

“Gymnastics requires significant equipment for practice and meets, and it will be costly, time-consuming and impractical to set up and break down equipment to accommodate sharing the space with another sport,” Theobald said in the email to coaches.

One idea proposed by opponents of the cuts is to give each eliminated team five years to reach self-sustainability. Theobald said that the fundraising campaign necessary to reach such a goal would need to bring in the highest amount of donations in Temple’s history – estimating that more than $60 million is necessary to meet annual operating costs of the teams. Temple has one of the lowest fundraising campaigns in the American Athletic Conference, although its donation total increased 36 percent and reached an all-time high during the 2012–13 year.

Theobald said the administration will continue its review of suggestions raised by the cut teams.

“At this point, I remain convinced that the difficult decision to right-size our program and create a sustainable model for Temple athletics moving forward remains in the best interest of all of our 39,000 students and for Temple University as a whole,” Theobald said in the email.

A meeting of the athletics committee of the Board of Trustees is scheduled for Feb. 26.

Avery Maehrer can be reached at avery.maehrer@temple.edu or on Twitter @AveryMaehrer.

 

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