Michigan State Women’s Swimmers File Title IX Lawsuit Against University

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Photo Courtesy: Michigan State Athletics

Eleven Michigan State women’s swimmers have filed a lawsuit against the University for the elimination of the swimming and diving program in October.

Full court document

Michigan State swimmers Sophia BalowAva BoutrousJulia CoffmanKylie Goit, Emma InchSheridan Phalen, Madeline ReillyOlivia StarzomskiSarah ZofchakTaylor Arnold and Elise Turke were named as plaintiffs in the case, against Michigan State University, the Board of Trustees, President Samuel L. Stanley, and Athletic Director Bill Beekman, who are named as the defendants.

The case alleges that Michigan State University will “compound its historic Title IX wrongs at the end of 2021, when it terminates the 38-member women’s varsity swimming and diving team, and with it, MSU terminates all opportunities for women to compete in intercollegiate varsity swimming and diving at the university.”

According to the court document, the “Plaintiffs seek to stop Defendants from discriminating against them and all others similarly situated now and in the future. They seek injunctive relief to prevent Defendants from eliminating the women’s swimming and diving programs at the end of the 2020–2021 academic year and to require Defendants to add women’s varsity athletic opportunities until Defendants offer equal opportunity to participate in varsity athletics free from discrimination.”

In a letter to the community on October 22, 2020, by athletic director Bill Beekman, it cited “a financial crisis unlike any we’ve ever seen” with a best-case scenario of a $30 million shortfall. From the statement:

“We understand that the news is devastating to our outstanding student-athletes in these sports, as well as to their coaches, but with every thoughtful analysis it became increasingly clear that we were not positioned to offer the best experience to our student-athletes, either now or in the future.

“Today’s decision does not end our commitment to the student-athletes and staff within the swimming and diving programs. Scholarship commitments will be honored beyond this year for any student-athletes who choose to finish their undergraduate degree at Michigan State. For student-athletes who wish to transfer to another institution, Michigan State Athletics will help them with their transition. Contracts for all coaches will be honored (through June 30, 2021). During this transition, and for the duration of the student-athletes’ time at Michigan State, the athletic department will offer counseling and mental health services for those who would find them of assistance.”

The Spartans are coached by Matt Gianiodis, who has been head coach in East Lansing since 2003.

Within days of the news getting broken that Michigan State would be discontinuing its swimming and diving program, dozens of Spartan alums began the fight back to save the program.

“When I was there, I walked out with both my Bachelor’s and an MBA in five years and it put me in a great position to start my career in consulting with Anderson at the time and set me up to continue to do what I’m doing today,” 1997 grad Tom Munley told Swimming World about what he learned while at Michigan State that helps him in his current job. “Consulting is one of those things that is very similar to swimming in that you get a nine month project and it is very hard and very stressful but you have to remind yourself you are working towards a goal. I see the difference today in some of the people we hire off of different campuses. The athletes get the mentality what it takes to work through stress and to use that grit to work through whatever professional challenges they have but it is not always present in people that you hire without that athletic background and I would say swimming is uniquely well positioned for that. You train for months for an event that might last a minute and a half. That’s hard for some people to understand.”

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Shelby Lacy. Photo Courtesy: Michigan State Athletics

“While at Michigan State I really learned what it’s like to be a part of something,” 2015 grad Shelby Lacy said, who is now a video producer in the corporate communications department at ESPN and is pictured at the top of this story. “Learning, collaboration, trouble shooting. At Michigan State, if we want to talk about the facilities, it was doing more with less. I always like to say when looking for a job, I always tell the interviewer that I’m coachable. I feel like being a student athlete and a collegiate swimmer instills that work ethic in you that is always hungry for more and hungry to learn – the desire to get better. I feel like there’s a lot of characteristics I have carried into my career for sure.”

“It was valuable,” 2020 grad Scott Piper said, who is now pursuing his Masters degree in biomedical engineering at Stanford. “If anything the way our facilities were, it made the experience even better because you really learned how to be resourceful and do more with less. I don’t need to rely on being in the nicest place or having the most resources at your disposal which I think is especially true going to grad school during a pandemic where you can’t actually go into any of the labs or buildings that are super nice and shiny. It really comes down to being resourceful.

“The grit and determination that you get from a sport like swimming – 20 hours a week for the entire year all for a couple tenths of a second. The grit and determination from that was valuable. Swimming at Michigan State specifically was the perfect fit for me because not only are you competing at a high level of athletics but you are really becoming a well-rounded person.