Netters sue over cut of program

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Four Missouri State women's players want the team reinstated.

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- Four Missouri State women's tennis players are suing the school for cutting their program as part of a reduction in university athletics, alleging the move violates federal Title IX rules that require equal treatment of male and female student athletes.

The lawsuit asks a federal court to order the state's second-largest university to reinstate the women's tennis program and seeks a temporary injunction to keep the sport going after the planned shutdown at the end of this academic year.

Missouri State University decided in December to drop five of its 21 sports at the end of the school year to reduce athletics costs it said were growing faster than the university budget as a whole. It cut men's indoor and outdoor track, men's cross country and men's and women's tennis.

The lawsuit seeks class-action status for all current and future women tennis players. It was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union in the name of four players who contacted the group.

"I think we have a good chance," junior Maja Stanojevic, a co-captain, said of the case, which was filed in U.S. District Court in Springfield.

University legal counsel John Black said, "The university has complied, is complying and will continue to comply with Title IX," the 1972 law that prohibits sex discrimination in any educational program that receives federal funds.

Along with Stanojevic, Paty Manzur, Eleonora Kuruc and Monika Musilova were also named in the suit. The four women still would be eligible to play college tennis after this season.

By cutting the five sports, Missouri State expects to save an estimated $350,000 annually in a budget that receives about $5 million from the university's general fund.

Under Title IX, Missouri State must meet at least one of three requirements: The participation rate of women must be "substantially proportionate" to the undergraduate enrollment rate; the program must show a "history of continuing practice of program expansion which is demonstrably responsive to the developing interest and abilities" of women; or the program must "fully and effectively" accommodate women's interests and abilities.

"We believe that they are in violation of all three," said Anthony Rothert, ACLU legal director of eastern Missouri.

The ACLU has taken an active role in past Title IX lawsuits, including a 1993 case in which softball was reinstated at Colorado State.

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