In December, Southern Illinois University decided to cease operations on its men’s and women’s tennis programs at the end of the 2017 season for financial reasons, and because of that move, a former Saluki coach has alleged the university may have violated Title IX provisions.
When the university decided to end the program, it also reduced the number of scholarships for men’s swimming and diving from about 10 to six in 2017-2018, most likely in an attempt to stay within Title IX laws. The two moves were announced as saving the athletic department about $660,000 a year.
Former Saluki Tennis Coach Judy Auld filed an official compliant with the U.S. Department of Education in March about possible Title IX violations and the Office of Civil Rights has confirmed it has opened an investigation into the university.
Auld said most schools aren’t in compliance, but SIU had a wide enough margin where she just had to say something.
“I didn’t want to do this,” she said. “That is the last thing I would want to do. But, this is the law.”
Auld said it wasn’t just about the tennis team being eliminated when she decided to make her report, but about all opportunities for athletes.
“I don’t want people to think I went after them because they dropped women’s tennis,” she said. “If they had dropped women’s golf, and they still weren’t in compliance, maybe I wouldn’t have been the person that filed the complaint, but I can’t say that I wouldn’t of. “
“I would like to see tennis reinstated, but I don‘t want it at the expense of another men’s sport,” she said. “That was never my intention. I want opportunity for all athletes.”
Auld said she would like to see the university take a look at operating from a zero-base budget, meaning to operate based on need when it comes to funding athletics at SIU.
A spokesperson with the U.S. Department of Education said the civil rights office has three open investigations at SIU, but because the investigations are currently open, the office would not provide further information about it. The spokesperson said the length of time it takes to resolve a case depends of several factors, making it impossible to estimate how long the investigation could take.
The spokesperson also said potential consequences for the institution if found to be in violation could include termination of federal funding or a referral to the Department of Justice for judicial relief.
Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 is a federal law that states: “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”
Associate Athletic Director Tom Weber said specifically, the complaint refers to the equality of athletic opportunities accommodating the interests and abilities of members of both sexes in intercollegiate athletics.
Auld references a study done by Helen Grant Consulting completed in February to point out SIU hasn’t been in compliance with Title IX laws for several years. While the report references many positive things the athletic department is doing, it also points to several possible issues concerning Title IX laws.
For example, during the 2015-16 academic year, the rate of participating athletes was 7 percent less for women than it was for men, when looking proportionally to the student body. The federal guidelines say the rates must be substantially proportionate to the rate of enrollment of full-time undergraduate students, according to the report.
The report also says SIU could look at expanding sports for females athletes. Suggestions of bowling, soccer, rugby, lacrosse and equestrian were mentioned in the report. The report says SIU has not added a women’s sport in 26 years, and the university has eliminated badminton, gymnastics and field hockey in that time.
SIU Athletic Director Tommy Bell released a statement saying the department believes it is in compliance with Title IX law.
“The U.S. Department of Education has advised us of a Title IX complaint regarding the gender equality of athletic opportunities at the university,” he said in the statement. “We are working closely with the Office of Civil Rights to provide all of the relevant information in order to resolve this inquiry. Until we know what actions, if any, need to be taken, it would be inappropriate to comment regarding specifics of the investigation.
“SIU Carbondale and its athletics programs are committed to an inclusive campus. We take our Title IX obligations seriously and believe we are in compliance with the law.”
Weber said Tuesday the department is in the process of responding to the Office of Civil Rights’ request for data related to the complaint.