Colgate has awarded varsity status to its women's ice hockey club team, settling a lawsuit that dates to 1989. The college announced the decision in January.
Beginning next fall, the women's varsity hockey team will compete in the ECAC Alliance, as the club team does now, against varsities from Amherst, Bowdoin, Hamilton, Middlebury, RIT, RPI, Wesleyan and Williams, and club teams from Vermont and Maine. Women's hockey is classified as an "emerging sport" by the NCAA and has no national championship and therefore no true divisional classifications, according to athletic director Mark Murphy '77.
"It was necessary to convert the team to varsity status in order to continue a viable women's ice hockey program," said Murphy. "When the ECAC established the Alliance two years ago we felt that we wouldn't be able to put together a viable schedule unless we joined. Even though Colgate's club team was funded comparably to the schools in the Alliance, the club label had made it impossible to attract the stronger athletes necessary to field a competitive team. We are hoping for much greater success in the Alliance as a varsity team."
The women's ice hockey club is presently the best-funded single-sex club team on campus but its record for the 1995-96 season was 3-12-0. At press time the team's record for 1996-97 was 4-10. As a varsity team it will have somewhat greater support from the college for equipment, facilities scheduling, publicity and travel amenities. The team already has a full-time coach (Braden Houston) and assistant.
The attorney for the women, Faith Seidenberg, told The Chronicle of Higher Education that her clients are "ecstatic" about the decision.
Members of the women's ice hockey club team filed suit against the college in 1989 after the club's petitions for varsity status had been denied. The women's club team argued that, under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, it was entitled to be treated in a manner identical to the treatment afforded the men's varsity hockey team. Colgate had maintained throughout the court proceedings that Title IX does not require a direct sport-by-sport comparison of varsity opportunities; that the interest and ability of prospective athletes are acceptable factors in determining which teams will be awarded varsity status.
"We believe that our athletic program has always equally accommodated the interests and abilities of Colgate's men and women athletes and that we are in compliance with Title IX," said Murphy. "Before the conversion of women's ice hockey, Colgate already sponsored equal numbers of men's and women's varsity teams." JL