Michigan State Title IX case could be heading to Supreme Court

A pivotal Title IX case could be headed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Michigan State reportedly asked the Supreme Court to hear a case between the university and members of the women's swimming team, according to USA Today. Eleven members of the now-defunct team alleged in a 2021 suit that when Michigan State eliminated both the men's and women's swimming teams in 2020, it violated Title IX – which requires equitable sports opportunities for men and women. The lawsuit also alleged that Michigan State fudged its Title IX reporting numbers by "offering large rosters in certain sports that do not ultimately provide the opportunities for performance the rule intends for," per USA Today.

Barbara Osborne, a professor of sports administration at the University of North Carolina, said that if the Supreme Court heard the case, "it would send Title IX advocates into a panic." Osborne added on Twitter that "There’s no reason for the Supreme Court to take this case unless they are looking to destroy more established precedent."

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Where the case currently stands

The former Spartans swimmers won an appeal in February when a three-judge panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed with the district court's initial ruling that the elimination of the teams didn't violate Title IX. The appellate court said that the initial ruling miscalculated the participation gap.

Last week, Michigan State showed it had a female athlete-participation gap of 40 during the final year of the swimming teams, and that the women's team had more members than the men's that year.

Lawyers for Michigan State then asked whether or not that gap "must be assessed in raw numerical terms, or, instead, may be assessed as a percentage figure." They also agreed that the rule regarding participation gaps is "wholly impractical" because small numerical gaps "can pop up at any time, due to factors outside the university's control," which trigger a violation.

Would the Supreme Court take the case?

If the Supreme Court took the case, it wouldn't be heard until at least early October after the court recessed for the summer. But even then, it's not a given. The Supreme Court hears about 100-150 cases per year but is asked to review more than 7,000.

The court has heard sports-related cases as recently as this year, though.

In June, the Supreme Court heard and ruled in favor of a former high school football coach who was not re-hired after taking a knee in prayer following games.

In 2021, the court also unanimously ruled against the NCAA in a case regarding athlete compensation. That ruling allowed athletes to be paid for their names, images and likenesses – deals now known as NIL – that has permeated college sports.

The case against Michigan State, though, is very different from those two and could have much wider implications for women's college athletics. It could directly affect Title IX, which, for the uninitiated, is a federal law that forbids the exclusion from participation in "any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance" on the basis of sex. Title IX celebrated its 50th anniversary in June.

The Supreme Court could be hearing a Title IX case in October. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
The Supreme Court could be hearing a Title IX case in October. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)