Fresno State refutes Title IX violation allegations, lacrosse lawyer responds

Fresno State Memorial Fountain. (Vendila Yang/The Collegian)

Fresno State and the lacrosse team are currently at a standstill as the university legal counsel responds to allegations that Fresno State is violating Title IX following the program’s elimination.

Arthur Bryant, the lacrosse team’s lawyer, sent a letter to University Counsel Darryl Hamm on Dec. 11 refuting numerous claims Hamm has made supporting Fresno State’s decision to cut the lacrosse program. Bryant added that Hamm provided no evidence for his claims and is seeking evidence from him no later than Tuesday, Dec. 15.

In a Dec. 10 letter, Hamm stated that the university is confident its roster management program fully complies with Title IX. He said the university is willing to demonstrate this fact.

“The university would also look forward to demonstrating to a court or the OCR [U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights] that it continues to carefully monitor its participation numbers in compliance with Title IX guidance, and as verified in its prior OCR reviews,” Hamm said in the letter.

Bryant disagreed with Hamm in his letter and argued that previous OCR reviews are based on the 2009 agreement’s specific requirements that Fresno State made. Bryant said it doesn’t evaluate their current compliance with Title IX.

“That OCR letter… says nothing about whether Fresno State complied with Title IX in recent years — both before and after it eliminated the women’s lacrosse team,” he said. 

In his letter, Hamm wrote that the university would welcome the opportunity to prove that the decision to eliminate men’s and women’s programs was designed to ensure that Fresno State provides opportunities with the law in mind.

In October, Fresno State chose to cut the lacrosse, men’s tennis and wrestling teams because the university expected to have a $6.6 million operating deficit in the upcoming fiscal year. According to the university, eliminating the three sports will save approximately $2.5 million once the reduction transition following the 2020-21 academic year.

Hamm states that the OCR and courts permit schools to manage their rosters reasonably to comply with Title IX.

According to Hamm, the university has developed a roster management program that places reasonable limits on its existing men’s teams to comply with Title IX, which has been done to the men’s teams but not the women’s teams.

Hamm said the OCR and courts permit schools to reasonably manage their rosters to comply with Title IX’s Prong I Participation Test. The test states intercollegiate participation based on sex must be substantially proportionate to the university’s general student population.

Fresno State believes that it complies with this test. Still, according to Bryant, Hamm didn’t provide any details or evidence about the program to allow anyone to determine if his Title IX compliance claims are valid.

Additionally, the most recent Equity in Athletics Disclosure Act (EADA) data does not support what Hamm is claiming, Bryant said. With the elimination of three sports, the data shows a 2.37% gap between the percentage of undergraduate women students and women student-athletes.

Because of the gap, Bryant said Fresno State would need to add 30 women to reach gender equity under Title IX.

However, Hamm argues Bryant’s statement of a 30 student-athlete gap is false, and Fresno State projects that after eliminating wrestling, men’s tennis and lacrosse, the university would be well beyond substantial proportionality.

“The overall proportion of men-to-women in the University’s athletic program is less than 2% higher than the overall ratio of men to women in the University’s general student population,” Hamm said.

Bryant said nothing in Hamm’s letter shows that the proportion difference is less than two percent and that the 30-student athlete gap is false. “It does not explain how either of these claims is true — and it is hard to understand how could they be,” he said.

If Fresno State is complying with Title IX, Bryant said he and his clients would not file a lawsuit, but they will do so quickly if they aren’t.

The recent back-and-forth between legal counsels comes three days after Bryant threatened legal action following the university’s initial response to a letter on the team’s behalf.

Written by Anthony De Leon and Zaeem Shaikh

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