Florida State Adds Varsity Women’s Lacrosse Team to Avoid Title IX Lawsuit

Florida State University agreed to add a varsity women's lacrosse team, develop a gender equity plan, and bring its intercollegiate athletic program into compliance with Title IX.
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Published on October 12, 2023
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  • A May 2022 USA Today investigation showed that Florida State University inflated the number of women it said participated in varsity sports to be in compliance with Title IX.
  • The school had repeatedly refused to upgrade its women's club lacrosse team to varsity status.
  • The team alleged the university was violating Title IX, which requires schools to give female and male student-athletes equal treatment.
  • FSU agreed to create a varsity team no later than the 2025-2026 school year and develop a gender equity plan to bring the athletic program into Title IX compliance.

A women's varsity lacrosse team is coming to Florida State University (FSU), due in part to the work of women's club lacrosse team members who threatened to sue the university for violating Title IX.

"This is a great victory for the women at FSU and all who care about Title IX and gender equity in sports," Arthur Bryant, a California-based Title IX lawyer and lead counsel for the women, said in a statement. "We are proud to represent the courageous women on the club lacrosse team, who decided to stand up and fight. We also commend FSU, which decided to do the right thing. We are grateful to them all."

The lawsuit stemmed from a May 2022 USA Today investigation that uncovered how FSU claimed to be in compliance with Title IX by double- and even triple-counting the number of women it said participated in some varsity sports.

Title IX, the federal law that protects against discrimination based on sex at federally funded institutions, requires schools to treat female and male college athletes equally, including providing the same opportunities to participate and similar financial aid and benefits.

The school had previously denied varsity status to the women's club lacrosse team, in part because it said the institution was in compliance with Title IX.

"By double- and triple-counting (women) athletes … the school claimed to have offered 175 track and field and cross country 'opportunities' to women. That erased half of its overall gender participation gap (in 2018-19)," USA Today reported.

Members of the club lacrosse team formally petitioned to have their team upgraded to varsity status last July, but they were rejected, according to a statement by Bryant's law firm, Bailey & Glasser, LLP.

On Aug. 2, the law firm sent a letter to the president of the university, asking him to help resolve the dispute or face a sex discrimination class action case against FSU for violating Title IX.

The university this month settled with the women but admitted no wrongdoing. In the settlement, the university committed to build a varsity women's lacrosse team and conduct a gender equity review of its athletic program.

"FSU does not admit any liability or wrongdoing, but FSU is committed to gender equity and, as a result of that commitment, the University took your allegations serious, immediately explored the feasibility of adding an NCAA women's lacrosse team," FSU's general counsel said in the settlement letter.

The school also promised to implement a gender equity plan by the 2025-2026 academic year to ensure full Title IX compliance.

"We are thrilled that, together, we are making history," FSU women's club lacrosse team captain Sophia Villalonga said in the law firm's statement. "We hope this will prompt women nationwide to enforce Title IX and demand equality. And we hope FSU's willingness to provide that will prompt other schools to do so, too."

Additionally, starting during the 2023-2024 academic year, FSU will provide $25,000 to the women's club lacrosse team to offset travel costs for players and fund competition uniforms to help "increase awareness" of the FSU lacrosse team while the varsity team is being assembled.

The women's club lacrosse team will continue to operate as a club team after the varsity team is created.