November 7, 2007

A Lawsuit - When to Consider One as a Coach

Part of being a volleyball coach at any level is dealing with situations that are not fair or equitable. As any long time volleyball coach, high school or college, can share - the list of potential Title 9 ( inequities and discriminatory situations are lengthy.

A few college coaches have been motivated to file lawsuits because of situations that they felt were discriminatory - the most recent was Lindy Vivas and her successful lawsuit against Fresno State University.

Some issues to consider when reviewing your situation:

1. Is your per player budget anywhere near football, men's basketball and women's basketball? This is important because, in theory, if two men's sports are funding at $5,000 per player, then two women's sports must be funded at that level.

2. Does volleyball relinquish practice time or move practice time to an undesirable hour to accommodate a sport that is out of season? Too many times, volleyball must give up gym time so basketball can play pick-up games or conduct out of season individual/group training sessions.

3. Is the volleyball team travelling in vans, that you drive, while another team rides in buses?

4. Does your school promote/market volleyball? Are there pep rallies being held for other sports? Does volleyball enjoy comparable media support? Are there specific marketing programs in place? Does the band come play at matches? If other sports can say yes, then volleyball should be receiving the same support.

5. What is your salary or coaching stipend? You should be in-line with the male sport coaches at your school.

6. If you are a college coach, do you have a contract - not an employment letter, but a multi-year contract with termination only for cause? This is significant, because EVERY college football or basketball coach has a multi-year, cause only contract.

As a coach, you feel something is not fair, you must take a hard look and determine if they are significant enough to merit taking legal action. Sometimes, all you need to do is reference legal action or threaten a lawsuit and things will change.

At one school, I sat through a long meeting requested by the Men's Basketball coach with the Athletic Director because he was upset that Women's Volleyball had the gym each afternoon for practice and he wanted to use the gym for pick-up basketball games during that time frame.

After confirming with the Basketball coach that he was demanding that volleyball vacate the gym during the season, so Basketball could play pick-up games before their team practice commenced, I turned to the Athletic Director and stated that if an in season female team is being told to vacate the floor for an out of season male team, then we need to schedule a meeting with the school's General Counsel to visit about Title 9 issues. The Athletic Director's response was to look at the Basketball coach and say that Volleyball had the floor until the start of their team training, and then the gym would be shared equally until Volleyball was done with their season.

Unfortunately, it was not until the threat of a lawsuit or a Title 9 mention, that the Volleyball program received support. There was no hesitation by the Men's Basketball program to demand that Volleyball negatively impact our program to benefit them, and the Athletic Director allowed such a meeting to happen.

Don't be afraid of considering a lawsuit if you feel the situation merits one. If your program does not receive equal support (budget, equipment, promotions, media) or you feel that a discriminatory practice exists (denied access to facilities, no multi-year contract, hostile attitude towards you or volleyball), then you have two choices - Either leave that school and hope the next school is better or demand equal treatment by using the law.

If you decide to consider a lawsuit, you must visit with an attorney who handles such situations - don't rely on this website or the experience/advice of other coaches. Go see a lawyer, even if you have to pay to have an appointment, because the lawyer will be able to examine your case and determine if there are legal grounds for a suit and the probability of that suit being determined in your favor!

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