Trial over the University of Kentucky’s Title IX compliance begins

Monday was day one of what is expected to be a three-day Title IX trial against the University of Kentucky.
Published: Aug. 7, 2023 at 3:55 PM EDT
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LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) - Monday was day one of what is expected to be a three-day Title IX trial against the University of Kentucky.

The trial comes nearly four years after the lawsuit was initially filed.

Passed in 1972, Title IX bans discrimination on the basis of sex and guarantees women equal access to education programs and activities, including sports.

“Title IX, you know, gave me the opportunity to not only participate and compete and play in a sport that I love but also gave me the ability to coach and continue doing that throughout my career,” said former UK Women’s Basketball player Lea Wise Prewitt.

Prewitt went from being a star on the court for the Wildcats to a leader on the sidelines for the Centre College Lady Colonels in the 1980′s.

Prewitt believes institutions can better cater to their students’ athletic needs.

“I think you have to always be asking the students at the institutions, ‘What are you interested in?’ And if there’s a great interest in a certain sport, then you have to really look at that and say, ‘Hey should we offer this as a varsity sport?’” Prewitt said.

While Prewitt is not involved in the current lawsuit against the University of Kentucky, her experience as a college athlete and coach leads her to support athletes who use Title IX to advocate for themselves.

“That’s what Title IX was put in. It’s why it’s there,” said Prewitt. “It’s so that you have that option and you know that’s there. It’s not just having the sport. It’s having the facilities and the scholarships and the medical training and the travel and the tutoring, and it’s everything.”

While adding to an existing athletic program is not simple, sometimes it’s necessary.

“It’s not as easy as saying, ‘Hey, let’s put this sport in there.’ There’s a lot that goes on to form a sport.” said Prewitt. “I do think you have to do, the athletic departments need to do their due diligence and look at what is needed by the students.”

In 2016, the Office of Civil Rights determined that the University of Kentucky was not in compliance with Title IX due to a lack of athletic opportunities for female students.

To remedy the case, the University could either add additional spots for female athletes or survey female athlete interest. They chose the latter.

Surveys found interest in sports other SEC schools have, such as equestrian (currently offered at four SEC schools.)

While the University of Kentucky has the most options for female athletes in the SEC, the current lawsuit (led by former students Lisa Niblock and Ala Hassan) argues UK’s sports do not adequately represent the interests of its female athletes.

If the University of Kentucky loses this case, they can choose to appeal. However, if they exhaust all of those appeal options, they will have to comply with these standards set forth by the plaintiff’s side and potentially pay compensatory damage to the plaintiffs themselves.