‘This is not what we asked for’: William & Mary Reinstates Women’s, But Not Men’s, Swimming

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Photo Courtesy: William & Mary Athletics

When the announcement landed during a meeting with William & Mary athletes Monday, it wasn’t what members of the women’s swimming team expected. It also wasn’t what they wanted.

Citing pressure over Title IX requirements and an internal review in the face of threatened litigation, William & Mary decided that axing seven sports on Sept. 3 was too heavy-handed. To preserve Title IX balance, designed to allocate equal athletic opportunities to men and women, the administration announced it would reinstate women’s swimming, women’s volleyball and women’s gymnastics.

For members of the swim team, who have fought to restore Tribe swimming for men and women – under the banner of “one family, one fight” – Monday’s announcement was less a salvation than a source of survivor’s guilt.

“It’s definitely really hard,” junior Rebecca Rogers told Swimming World. “It’s kind of hard to be happy considering just how close we are to the men’s team and that a lot of our decisions were trying to save both teams. So we want to be happy but it’s pretty hard.”

“I think there’s definitely a divide in emotions, but because we are so close, a lot of the guys were really happy for us just because this means that Tribe swimming in general isn’t going to cease to exist,” senior Tara Tiernan said. “But at the same time, it’s hard to watch your best friends get something that you worked equally as hard for. And we’re not separate teams. We are one tribe, one team.”

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William & Mary’s fight to reinstate swimming has been under the “one tribe” banner, which makes Monday’s restoration of just the women’s team less joyous than uncomfortable; Photo Courtesy: William & Mary Athletics

The decision fits with the tone-deafness that William & Mary swimmers have gotten used to from the administration. While their efforts to restore swimming have been gender-neutral, aiming for restore that “one tribe” that exists in practice, the college’s decision-making is anything but.

There was little obfuscating that in a statement, which ascribes the change of heart to when, “the university received notice of intent to sue on the grounds that the announced plan, including the cuts and the associated roster adjustments in other sports, would not fully meet Title IX standards.”

This isn’t the first misstep by the administration. It admitted plagiarizing large portions of the initial letter to the community from one Stanford used to announce program cuts in the summer. Director of Athletics Samantha Huge resigned earlier this month. Monday’s announcement cites little reasoning save for the desire to stave off lawsuits, the monetary savings from which can then ensure gender equity, though only indirectly and when forced to.

“Achieving gender equity for the department has been an important goal throughout this process – one of the three critical challenges we aimed to address,” president Katherine A. Rowe said in the statement. “We appreciate the question was pressed, and it prompted us to dig deeper and determine if the previous plan went far enough or fast enough. This is an opportunity for us to do something decisive, consistent with our values, and I commend Interim Director (Jeremy) Martin for working toward a swift resolution under very difficult circumstances.”

That hasn’t gone unnoticed by swimmers, who don’t see this as either swift or a resolution.

“During the meeting, nobody felt truly happy for just getting the women’s team reinstated because it’s not Tribe swimming without both the women’s and the men’s team,” senior Gabby Zhang said. “So I feel like there’s hope and we’re still going to fight. … It’s kind of upsetting because it feels like they just reinstated us so they could make the numbers and they only care about the numbers.”

Tiernan put it differently, referring to an assistant coach saying, “it’s like having half of your children get rewarded for something that all of your children worked for.” In rends in two the solidarity that has been the cornerstone of the Save Tribe movement.

“It’s definitely weird because it’s like a family being torn apart essentially, with the men no longer being able to swim with the women,” said Grace Olsen, a sophomore no longer on the team who wrote an essay that appeared on Swimming World about what the team has meant to her. “From that aspect, it’s a huge loss. … I think that most people are just as angry now as they were before, so they’re going to continue doing what they were doing to bring the men’s team back.”

Even the reinstatement puts William & Mary in a precarious position. They’ve ceded leverage to the women’s team, which knows that the university needs it to make its participation numbers work. But operationally, Tiernan said, the cost of sponsoring a women’s team is roughly equal to the cost of a co-ed team. But then the Title IX numbers come into play if men’s swimming is reinstated. (The obvious stumbling block for Title IX is, as ever, football: The Tribe have 101 athletes on the roster for a program whose last winning season was 2015.)

It’s been a difficult time for swimmers since the cuts were announced. With the specter of discontinuation hovering, practices have lacked the usual joy. The four swimmers who spoke to Swimming World live in a house together off-campus; their classes are a mixture of in-person and remote, and training is limited to eight hours per week as they await a winter schedule. Underclassmen like Rogers, whose father attended William & Mary, and Zhang were pretty set on remaining enrolled for a swim-free senior year if the cut had not been rescinded. But others have opted to swim elsewhere. As Rogers put it, “the horrible position of choosing between the sport that you love and the people you’ve come to love,” isn’t a morale booster.

The bright side is that Monday’s news gives the women’s team a stable foothold to fight from.

“Our standing in the athletic department is now pretty secure,” Tiernan said, “and we can use that to our advantage to let them know how we really feel.”

“I think that it’s not going to stop our fight,” senior Diana Tramontano said. “We’re still one team and we’re going to continue to push for our one team to be reinstated. The women are not just stopping because we’re reinstated. We’re one family. We’ve always been one team. And just getting half our team back is not good enough, so I don’t think we’re going to stop fighting. We’re going to keep fighting for the men to get reinstated as well.”

2 comments

  1. Tricia Newman

    Can the guys identify as female? Only half joking. It’s a thought.
    Sort of like calling trick or treating “looting from front porch” since looting is ok and trick or treating is banned in some places.

  2. avatar
    Jack Morrow

    ECU dropped mens and womens swimming and diving and mens and womens tennis. Their reasoning for swimming was pool needed too many upfits to bring it up to Div. 1 standards and money to run the program. #1-False. NCAA says pool meets and exceeds NCAA Div 1 standards. #2-Swimming and Diving alumni have raised over $800,000.00 in 5 months to fund the program and admin and AD won’t even meet with us. Horrible decision. We have won 4 out of the last 6 AAC titles and had GPA of 3.5 plus. 66 year winning traditiom. 2 National titles, 21 conference titles and 47 All Americans. Shame, shame. Good luck to W & M-men and women.

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