Oregon women's beach volleyball suing over Title IX issues

The Oregon women's beach volleyball team filed a lawsuit against the university Friday, claiming that the athletic department is discriminating against it by failing to comply with Title IX laws.

The 26 members of the varsity beach volleyball team are joined in the lawsuit by six members of Oregon's women's rowing team, which competes at the club level. The volleyball players say in the lawsuit that they are the only team in any sport in the Pac-12 that does not receive any scholarship money, and that they are forced to hold practices at a public park.

"This week, we could not practice because, sadly and disturbingly, someone died near the public courts we have to use in Amazon Park," team captain Ashley Schroeder said in a statement announcing the lawsuit. "We cannot use the restrooms there because they're not safe and, sometimes, people are in the stalls using drugs. But the men's teams have full scholarships, multi-million-dollar budgets, and professional-level, state-of-the-art facilities. I love the University of Oregon, but this hurtful, outrageous sex discrimination has to stop."

A university spokesperson said the school has not yet received the lawsuit but believes they are in compliance with Title IX. The spokesperson provided a statement that said, in part: "For beach volleyball, in addition to all other benefits, UO has already previously committed to increasing scholarships and to building a beach volleyball facility on campus at a site identified via the Campus Planning process. This site planning process began in 2019 and the project is now in the development phase."

Title IX law requires college athletic departments to meet three main requirements to avoid discriminating against athletes based on their sex: The school must provide a proportionate number of roster spots for men and women (for example, if 55% of a school's student body is women, 55% of its athletes should be women as well). It must provide proportionate scholarship amounts to men and women. And it must provide equal benefits and treatment, a broader category that can encompass the resources, recruiting and promotional efforts the school devotes to its team.

The volleyball players say Oregon is failing to provide women on campus equal benefits and scholarship dollars. In 2021, according to the most recent publicly available data, 49% of athletes on campus were women and 46% of scholarship dollars went to women. The lawsuit alleges that Oregon has consistently fallen two to five percentage points short of equal scholarship money in the previous decade.

Regarding other benefits, the lawsuit includes a long list of details comparing the beach volleyball travel and practice facilities with those of the men's sports teams. It says the school spends only 25% of its total athletic department budget on women and 15% of its recruiting budget on women's sports.

The Oregon lawsuit is the first Title IX complaint that includes a claim about the opportunities that women athletes have to maximize their name, image and likeness rights. The players say their male counterparts have received "much greater NIL-related training, opportunities, and income" since the NCAA started to allow athletes to make money on such deals in 2021.

While schools aren't directly involved in paying athletes, the players argue that the resources to learn about the NIL marketplace and the quality of publicity that the school provides for its teams impacts their earning potential.

According to a recent ESPN analysis, an overwhelming majority of Power 5 athletic departments mentioned men's teams more often than women's teams on the platform formerly known as Twitter. According to the analysis, which pulled the most recent 3,200 tweets for each athletic department account, Oregon tweeted about women's teams 44.7% of the time. A significant portion of NIL deals are driven by the number of followers and attention that an athlete or team can generate on social media.

The players are represented by Bailey Glasser attorneys Arthur Bryant and Lori Bullock. Bryant and Bullock have persuaded more than a half dozen Division I athletic departments to improve, add or save sports opportunities through the threat of legal action in the past several years.

Most recently, Florida State agreed to add a varsity women's lacrosse program after Bailey Glasser threatened to sue it for Title IX violations. Bryant said they attempted to reach an agreement with Oregon to improve conditions for women athletes on campus prior to filing their lawsuit Friday.

"The school refuses to change its ways or even admit there is a problem," Bryant said in a news release Friday. "It has taught its women athletes what the history of Title IX has shown: If women want equality, they need to fight for it. So that's what the women at Oregon are doing."