North Dakota Women’s Hockey Program Gets New Life, for Now
Published on August 18, 2021
- Former players challenge elimination of North Dakota women's hockey team.
- A federal appeals court says former players have a legitimate claim.
- The case has been sent back to a U.S. district court for further review.
- The university says its actions were legal and expects to prevail upon further review.
The women's hockey program at the University of North Dakota (UND) is not dead yet despite being dropped by the school in 2017. That's after the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals revived a lawsuit by 11 former players who opposed the elimination of the program.
The University of North Dakota, located in Fargo, said in a statement that the 8th Circuit opinion released on August 10, 2021, "does not reach the substance" of its decision to eliminate women's hockey.
"The Court did not suggest that UND's decision was wrong, but rather relied upon a narrow textualist rationale in reversing the District Court," the statement said. "We remain confident that UND's decision will ultimately be upheld. UND's actions were legally permissible and were in the best financial interests of the University."
In their lawsuit, the former players alleged the university violated Title IX, the federal law that protects individuals from sex-based discrimination. U.S. District Judge Daniel Hovland had ruled against the former players in 2019, saying they did not show a "substantial disproportionality" between men's and women's athletic opportunities.
The players then filed an appeal in October 2020, and the three-judge panel ruled that the athletes may have an actionable Title IX claim. The case was sent back to district court for further review.
School administrators cited budget woes due to decreased support from the state when they dropped women's hockey, as well as men's and women's swimming and diving. The former players said in their suit that the hockey program was "the most prominent and popular sport" for women at the university.
The team reached the NCAA quarterfinals in two straight years when future U.S. Olympic stars Monique and Jocelyne Lamoureux were on the roster. Several other former North Dakota players also participated in the Olympics.
Interestingly, in 2002, the 8th Circuit rejected a Title IX appeal from former members of UND's men's wrestling team who sought to reinstate the team. The university had closed that program citing funding and gender equity issues. The appeals court found at that time that the university's actions were legal.
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