Athletes react to reinstatement following threatened Title IX litigation

While many athletes expressed support for the decision, some say they have lost faith in the athletics department.

by Benjamin Ashley , Will Ennis , Andrew Doerr and Katherine Shannon | 2/19/21 2:03am

Source: Courtesy of Eleanor Zwart '22

Last month, the athletics department announced the reinstatement of five teams originally cut in July: men’s and women’s golf, men’s lightweight rowing and men’s and women’s swimming and diving. Athletes from both the reinstated sports and other teams have expressed support for the College’s decision, though some say they have been left with a lasting distrust of the athletics department.

The announcement of the reinstatement came as a particular surprise to the athletes on the men’s teams. Many expected the women’s teams to return in the wake of the threatened litigation but were uncertain of their own teams’ futures.

“I was shaking,” swimmer Parker Hershberger ’22 said. “I wasn’t processing the information. … I expected [the women’s golf and swimming and diving teams] to come back, but not all five. The news that all five would be coming back really shocked me.”

When the women’s teams initially began pursuing Title IX litigation in December, swimming and diving team co-captain Alie Hunter ’21 said the eliminated teams remained united in their efforts. 

“The men did know that the women’s teams were pursuing this option, and what was really great is they were really supportive, even though they knew that it could mean their teams wouldn’t come back,” Hunter said. 

College spokesperson Diana Lawrence wrote in an email that the decision to bring back all the teams, not only the women’s, was made due to the uncertainty of the gender equity review.

“As we take a step back to do a comprehensive review of our athletics compliance practices and procedures, it seemed fair and appropriate to reinstate the men’s teams alongside of the women’s teams,” Lawrence wrote. “Upon completion of the reviews, Dartmouth will take any necessary actions to ensure compliance with Title IX, to support institutional goals — including diversity, equity and inclusion — and to address broader institutional priorities and challenges.”

Those “broader institutional priorities and challenges” include one of the reasons originally cited for the elimination of the teams: a prerogative placed on former athletics director Harry Sheehy by College President Phil Hanlon to reduce the number of recruited athletes by 10%. With the cut teams now returning, it is unclear how Dartmouth intends to achieve that goal.

Despite these concerns, softball player Brooke Plonka ’22 said she feels that a possible 10% across-the-board cut is a better option than the elimination of specific programs.

“Our coaches have acknowledged that this is going to, in the long run, impact us in some way,” Plonka said. “I think those are valid concerns, and definitely something to think about in the future, but I think, as athletes, as students and as their friends, it's definitely worth it to have your team take a little hit, knowing that all these athletes are able to pursue what they've worked so hard to do.”

Athletes have expressed varying views regarding the College’s handling of the situation. Football player Joe Kramer ’22 declined to single out the College for blame, citing the ongoing pandemic as “tough times for everybody.”

“I doubt that they would have done it if they didn't think that there was literally no other way,” Kramer said. “I'm sure that the athletic department did [well] and will continue to do all they can.”

Football player Josh Greene ’23 expressed sympathy with the members of the eliminated teams and said he understood their anger at the athletics department. He added, however, that with the teams reinstated he hopes athletes can be “pleased as to where they are again.”

Other athletes are more wary of the athletic department in the wake of the eliminations and subsequent reinstatement. Lightweight rower Cooper Tuckerman ’22 was optimistic about the current situation, but he felt that some of the negative effects of cutting the teams will linger.

“I wouldn't say it's back to normal,” Tuckerman said. “... It's definitely something I think that will always be in the back of our heads.” However, he added that “so far, the school seems sincere and has been bringing us back into the fold.”

Plonka echoed this sentiment.

“I think that athletes want to have faith that our administration is doing everything they can for us,” Plonka said. “I will say there is sometimes a feeling of being a little disrespected, or more so not as appreciated … but as a whole, I think we know that [Dartmouth Peak Performance] cares about us, and our administration cares about us.”

Though the reinstated teams are protected from elimination through the 2024-25 academic year, the possibility of being cut again remains.

“We're obviously super happy that our teams are back, but it definitely leaves a weird taste in our mouth that there's a possibility in the future that a team can be cut,” men’s golf captain Jason Liu ’21 said.

Justin Kramer contributed reporting.