Update: Midland College softball players join Title IX lawsuit

An Excelle Sports story in June described the conditions that led Midland (Texas) College softball coach Tommy Ramos to bring a Title IX lawsuit against the school: critters in and near their locker room and dugout, an overcrowded locker room, and a general lack of support relative to the school’s baseball team.

As noted in that article, three Midland softball players were completing paperwork at the time to join the lawsuit. They’ve since done so, while a judge has ruled that Ramos doesn’t have legal standing to be a part of the suit. A trial date has been set for September 2018. Additionally, Midland College has responded to Excelle’s request for athletic department financial data.

“I am still hopeful we will work something out,” said John Klassen, the attorney for the plaintiffs. “I’m looking forward to meeting with (Midland’s attorneys) to see if there’s any possible way we can get some agreed resolution.”

Midland’s response to the latest complaint is light on specifics—typical in a civil case—and simply denies most of the allegations. But four days after the Excelle report, Midland College posted information on its blog that offers insight into its defense strategy.

Title IX cases are, initially, sometimes framed as one coach or one team taking on an institution. In actuality, the entirety of the school’s athletics programs is examined. Midland’s blog post notes the annual operating budgets, excluding salaries and benefits, for all the school’s women’s athletic programs in 2016 was $928,024, compared to $844,946 for the men’s teams. It notes the scholarship totals for men (48) and women  (49) were virtually equal in the latest school year.

Midland’s report also claims that members of the school’s Physical Plant department maintain the softball field but, for baseball, it is the team’s coaches who must “mow, replace sprinkler heads and perform all other routine maintenance functions for the actual playing field.” The school doesn’t recognize any significant differences in travel among the various teams, stating that “teams use charter bus transportation for long-distance travel.”

Much of the report contradicts what has been portrayed, to both Excelle and the courts, by Ramos. The latest legal filing, in which Ramos is listed as a plaintiff along with three current softball players, notes that “Ramos must personally devote several hours nearly every day during the softball season to ‘field prep.’” It claims the softball team “rarely utilizes charter buses” and the baseball team “often does.”

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One might think there would be more agreement re dollars and cents. There is not. The complaint states that “recruitment budgets for the baseball and softball teams are not comparable” and notes a discrepancy in travel budgets. Midland provided financial data for 2009 through 2017. No two years are completely identical, but for 2016, the softball budget for recruiting was $10,057 and actual expenditures were $12,250; for baseball, the budget was $11,542 and expenditures were $16,228. The data shows more money was allotted and spent on softball travel than baseball travel.

Ramos and women’s volleyball coach Tammie Jimenez, have previously expressed to Excelle frustration over private donations. They feel their sports are not getting their fair share. The data Midland provided confirms that. The expenditures from private funds for 2016, for example, were $5,163 for softball and $13,797 total for the three women’s sports teams. The corresponding numbers were $48,862 for baseball and $69,043 for the three men’s teams.

Funds granted to the athletic programs from Midland College Foundation, Inc. are tracked separately. The document Midland provided, which includes certain grants from as far back as 2008, shows $153,545 awarded to the softball program, plus another $26,000 to volleyball, and just $6,000 total to the three men’s programs. The plaintiffs obviously feel the numbers, especially as they relate to donations and grants, are misleading or incomplete.

That Ramos was ruled not to have standing is frustrating to the plaintiffs. Klassen said he will likely file a motion to reconsider—he didn’t feel the judge sufficiently explained why Ramos has not experienced tangible harm as a result of the alleged violations. “The students have the most interest in the case, I agree,” he said. “But I don’t think it means Coach Ramos has none.”

Having only current players on the suit could be problematic. Midland is a junior college, meaning students, including the athletes, don’t spend more than two years there. The three athletes on the suit will likely be gone by the time the case goes to trial and therefore would no longer have standing, forcing Klassen to start over again with new plaintiffs.

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Players for Midland College women’s softball team practice in a field home to many snakes and scorpions. (Tommy Ramos)

One way to get around that is to make the case a class-action suit. That means all Midland College softball players, and potentially all the school’s female athletes, are plaintiffs; those who join a women’s team also join the lawsuit. The revolving door of plaintiffs removes the standing issue and gives defendants one less reason to drag out a case. There is good chance Klassen and Ramos will pursue this avenue.

One thing is for certain: Title IX cases are incredibly complex. Even a school that, on the surface, meets certain financial and participation criteria could be violating the spirit of the law. An athletic director might always make time for the coaches of men’s teams but force women’s teams’ coaches to jump through scheduling hoops. That behavior wouldn’t show up on a spreadsheet.

Of course, many of the plaintiff’s claims in the Midland case are not so subtle. When Klassen meets with the defense team, they will likely discuss many of the points outlined above and try to get to the heart of the major differences. If not, a jury will.

Andrew Kahn is a regular contributor to Excelle Sports. He writes about Title IX and other issues at andrewjkahn.com and you can find his Scoop and Score podcast on iTunes. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @AndrewKahn

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