East Carolina University announced it would be reinstating the women's swimming and diving team, as well as the women's tennis team, effective immediately. Both programs were eliminated in May as part of budget cuts.
"We are looking forward to having women's swimming and diving along with women's tennis return as a part of our sport offerings," ECU director of athletics Jon Gilbert said in a statement on Thursday. "When we went through the process of eliminating four programs in May, we understood we needed to reconstitute the athletic department in terms of sports programs and to do so while facing significant budget restraints due to COVID and its uncertainties."
Members of both teams threatened a class-action lawsuit in November, as they believed the decision violated Title IX. The school addressed those claims in the release and said it would work with student-athletes to begin a "gender equity plan," thus creating a "blueprint for assessing, monitoring and enhancing gender equity in intercollegiate athletics."
Attorney Arthur Bryant of Bailey & Glasser LLP, who represented many of the women, released a statement on their behalf following the news.
"This is a major victory for women athletes at ECU, Title IX, and all who care about gender equity and the law," said Bryant. "The elimination of these women's teams flagrantly violated Title IX. ECU should be praised for agreeing to reinstate the teams, develop a gender equity plan, and get into compliance with Title IX, but this settlement should put all schools on notice. If they violate Title IX, they will be held accountable."
ECU said it would begin the hiring process for head coaches for both teams and then would determine a timeline for return to competition.
The men's swimming and diving team and men's tennis teams were also eliminated in the spring and were not part of Thursday's announcement, but an alumni group says it will continue to fight the decision.
"The alumni and supporters involved in the 'Save ECU Swim and Dive' are overjoyed at this outcome, and we remain committed to seeing the men's team restored as well to its rightful place in ECU Athletics," said the group in an emailed statement.