Clemson settlement to reinstate men’s track

Clemson announced Thursday that it will continue sponsoring its men’s outdoor track, indoor track and cross country teams, reversing a decision made last fall to eliminate the programs.

The university agreed to reinstate the men’s teams as one part of legal settlements with a pair of law firms that had threatened to sue the university for violating Title IX law. An attorney representing current members of the men’s teams sent a letter to the school in March saying that the decision to cut the men’s programs unfairly discriminated against male athletes on campus and would be a violation of federal Title IX laws. Two days later, a different attorney sent a letter to the school saying that Clemson was not providing enough financial support to its female athletes.

Title IX law requires that universities provide equal treatment to men and women on college campuses. Courts have determined through previous cases that schools have to provide a proportionate amount of both individual opportunities to compete in sports and financial aid for those participating in the sports. The athletes who threatened legal action argued that Clemson is currently not providing enough financial aid for its female athletes and that the decision to eliminate the track team would have led to an unfair lack of individual opportunities for the men.

As part of this week’s announcement, the school said it agreed with attorneys to conduct a full gender equity review in the coming year and make any changes necessary to make sure the university is fully compliant with Title IX law by the 2023-24 academic year.

Both attorneys — Arthur Bryant of the Bailey Glasser firm and Lori Bullock of Newkirk Zwagerman — said this is the first time they are aware of a men’s team being saved via Title IX complaint. Bryant, who has been involved in sports-related Title IX lawsuits since the 1980s, called this week’s settlement a “precedent-setting” push for gender equity in sports because it includes improvements for both male and female athletes. Bullock, who was representing the female athletes, said she thinks this year has prompted more student-athletes to demand more from the universities.

“The women at Clemson weren’t directly affected by the elimination, but they are one big family so they decided to fight for each other,” Bullock said.

Clemson first announced plans to eliminate the teams in early November 2020, citing financial problems brought on by the pandemic among other reasons for needing to cut the teams. A statement posted on the athletic department’s website Thursday said the financial impact of the pandemic was not as “drastic” as anticipated, and that financial support from a variety of sources will help them keep the track and cross country programs. The athletic department also intends to add a new women’s varsity sport in the near future in order to maintain gender equity as its campus demographics shift.

“I am appreciative of the support of the University and our collaboration that will allow us to not only maintain our current sports portfolio but add to it in the very near future,” athletic director Dan Radakovich said in a statement. “As we communicated previously, the original decision was difficult, and we did what was necessary at the time to maintain compliance with gender equity while addressing our financial situation. I am excited about the future of Clemson Athletics and for our student-athletes.”

The Title IX threats were the latest among a series of efforts to restore the men’s track program that were organized by a grassroots group of athletes, alumni and advocates. Along with a social media campaign using the hashtag #SaveClemsonXCTF, members of the group tried to pressure the school into changing its mind by fundraising, holding public events and filing claims of racial discrimination before turning to a Title IX legal claim.

Since March 2020, 35 Division I schools have announced plans to shutter, indefinitely suspend or downgrade a total of more than 100 teams on their campuses. More than two dozen of those teams have since been reinstated as a result of pushback from athletes and advocacy groups. Several similar groups at other universities across the country have taken legal action to fight back against their own teams being cut.

Russell Dinkins, a former track athlete at Princeton and an advocate who has helped several university track teams — including Clemson’s athletes — fight against elimination in the past year, said the university misrepresented its financial situation and other gender equity data when it first announced plans to eliminate the men’s track program. He said the athletes who helped form the grassroots effort to preserve the team will be celebrating this week.

“This is big,” Dinkins said. “It seemed improbable or almost impossible for a long time, but we got across the finish line.”

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