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Judge temporarily stops University of Iowa from cutting Women’s Swimming and Diving

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IOWA CITY, Iowa (KWWL)- A federal judge has granted a temporary injunction to stop the University of Iowa from dropping its women's swimming and diving team in the 2021-2022 school year.

The program was one of a handful cut by the University in August. Several female athletes filed a federal accusing the university of committing Title IX violations after it was cut.

The lawsuit challenges the UI's failure to provide equitable athletic opportunities for female students and equitable treatment of female student-athletes, including eliminating the women's swimming and diving program.

On top of that, the plaintiffs want it declared that the University of Iowa has engaged in a continuing pattern and practice of discrimination against women based on sex in intercollegiate athletics in violation of Title IX. They also want the UI to provide their team with funding and staffing benefits in proportion to their intercollegiate team status. They are also seeking monetary compensation.

"I thought that the hardest day was going to be when we heard that our team was cut, but that was really wrong," University of Iowa Senior and Swimming and Dive team captain Sage Ohlensehlen said. "Since then, our team has slowly fallen apart, and more and more people have left, so every day, it feels like throwing salt in that wound."

Ohlensehlen said most of her teammates have committed to leaving. On the girl's team, 7 swimmers have already transferred out of the program, 16 others could leave at the end of the school year, and four coaches have left the program.

"I'm a breaststroker. We started this year with six breaststrokers, and now we only have three, and we lost our three coaches," Ohlensehlen said. "It's definitely heartbreaking for this to be my senior year."

If the cuts were to be reversed, she said she believes the vast majority of her teammates would stay.

"All of them don't want to transfer. This feels like something they're being forced to do they don't want to," she said. "If they're given the option to stay at Iowa, I know that probably 90% of them will take it."

In a statement in September, shortly after the lawsuit was filed, University of Iowa leaders refuted the Title IX allegations. Officials said the cuts were necessary to balance the more than $50 million revenue loss caused by lost ticket sales and other revenue because of COVID-19.

"We understand the pain and frustration from our student-athletes but unfortunately the lawyer for the plaintiffs has omitted some key facts. First, the programs in question are still ongoing at this time so they cannot be “reinstated.”

Second, the University of Iowa last recently completed a four-year review by the Office of Civil Rights on compliance with Title IX in the Athletic Department. In 2019, the Office for Civil Rights closed its investigation with no findings of any violation in the 13 categories of Title IX. The university remains committed to staying in compliance with Title IX.

Diversity, equity, and inclusion are important parts of the Iowa Athletics Department’s mission. The elimination of these four sports will not negatively impact our efforts in this area. In fact, impact on Gender Equity and Title IX compliance was one of the factors used to determine which sports to eliminate due to the fiscal financial crisis created by COVID-19.

Finally, the decision to eliminate three men’s sports and one women’s sport, will impact 64 male student-athletes compared to 38 female-student athletes (roster numbers) and result in the loss of 20.7 male scholarships compared to 14 female scholarships. The university will work hard to support each student-athlete as they go through this very difficult transition.

"To find out that your team is cut, it feels like a death," Ohlensehlen said.

The team is currently preparing for the spring season, whatever it ends up looking like. To them, the pool is a safe space.

It's not clear how many swimmers will suit up in black and gold this spring. Several swimmers have committed to transfer to other schools but won't leave until the end of the school year.

"Even if it's just two other people out there and me, we are going to do the best we can," she said. "I know a lot of people are planning to stay through the school year, so I think we will be able to put up a good team."

They'll also have a little extra motivation.

"Right when we got cut, someone stood up and said no, we're gonna make them sad they cut us," she said. "We are gonna have the best darn season of our lives. Everybody's going to hit their best times. Let's show them what they're cutting."

Several swim team parents launched the "Save the Sports" movement in the wake of the cuts.

The group has been meeting with University leaders and has worked with John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center students to develop a sustainable model for all Olympic sports. Discussions are ongoing.

You can read the full lawsuit here:

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Daniel Perreault

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