Three Cal field hockey players considering filing Title IX lawsuit over potential loss of field

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Andrea Seet/Staff

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With the future of Cal field hockey’s home turf in question, three members of the team have considered filing a Title IX lawsuit against UC Berkeley in order to address the team’s lack of a home field for next season.

Title IX is a federal civil rights law stating that no program or activity that receives federal funding can discriminate on the basis of gender.

The team knew this season’s schedule would be rough when it found out Maxwell Family Field, their home facility, would be under construction while a parking lot was installed on the site, making it unavailable for team use. The Bears play at least 16 games this season, the closest of which is more than an hour away, but at the beginning of the season, they found out they would not have use of the facility in 2015, too.

Some players are alleging that because men’s teams on campus are not facing the same long-term displacement issues, UC Berkeley may be in violation of Title IX compliance.

When players Monica Marrazzo, Courtney Hendrickson and Kristen Lee heard they potentially would not have access to the field next season, they decided to take action by hiring Kiki Williams, an attorney for Equal Rights Advocates, a San Francisco law firm whose mission is to fight for women’s equality.

“Title IX is about gender equity, and the fact that this is happening to a women’s sport and women athletes when this doesn’t happen to men athletes is a big red flag,” Williams explained. “It’s not about, you know, going against or hating on any of the men’s teams — it’s really just about the women by law deserving to have equal rights in terms of athletics on the college campus. They’re not receiving that as a result of the university’s decision, so that falls within the Title IX violation.”

As first reported by the Bay Area News Group, talks are ongoing about the football team taking over Maxwell as a practice facility after construction is done. Field hockey head coach Shellie Onstead doesn’t see the issue as a dispute between the two teams but did acknowledge a “facility issue” over the field.

“It’s not a football-versus-field hockey thing in my mind at all,” Onstead said. “It’s a facility issue, and over the last couple of years since the parking lot was conceived, there’s been an attempt to kind of come up with a master plan to make sure that everybody’s needs are met. And, you know, I think that’s what everybody’s trying to do. It just got delayed to the point that it’s put a lot of pressure on everybody.”

The construction of a parking lot under the team’s practice facilities at Maxwell Family Field forced the team into a nomadic existence. According to Onstead, the team understood that it would be on the road for the entire 2014 season but had believed they would have a home field for the 2015 season.

“Yeah, the understanding has always been that we would be out of a competition facility this fall and back on track next fall, and that’s what I’m hoping will still happen,” Onstead said.

Williams said negotiations will take place this week but that the firm will consider filing the lawsuit if an agreement is not reached “pretty quickly.”

Cal field hockey players were not available to comment on this story, but according to Williams, the increased travel for practices and matches has had a tremendous impact on the student-athletes.

“They are not able to take any morning classes, and for the fifth-year senior and some of the other upperclassmen, they’re not able to take any classes that are required to allow them to complete their degree,” Williams said. “So they’re being extremely negatively impacted on the academic front.”

According to the Bay Area News Group, the original plan was to relocate the team’s practice facilities to Underhill Field, a campus facility at the intersection of College Avenue and Channing Way. According to Onstead, field hockey requires a watered turf in order to minimize the ball’s vertical movement on the pitch, and field hockey cannot be played at a Division I level on grass substitutes such as those found at Underhill and Memorial Stadium.

Thus, the next-best solution was to move practice to Stanford. But with a one-way trip to Stanford taking about an hour, players have been forced to schedule their classes to times later in the day. Starting class later means getting out later, too, resulting in less time to do homework before falling asleep and waking up for a 5:45 a.m. bus ride to practice.

Cal Athletics released a statement claiming that the situation is one of its primary concerns. It is in current deliberations with all parties involved and said it has made it a priority to accommodate the team’s interests.

“In the past, we have had other sports that have been temporarily displaced while work is being done on an existing or future facility,” the statement from Cal Athletics reads. “Although the current circumstances surrounding our field hockey team’s practice and game competition facilities are not optimal, we are working with our campus partners to identify short and long-term solutions. As we continue to make these decisions, student-athlete welfare will be our primary guiding principle.”

But for the time being, things are not quite settled.

“Well, that’s kind of where we are right now is nobody’s saying one way or the other,” Onstead said. “I feel like we’re at least moving in the right direction.”

Jessi McDonald covers field hockey. Contact her at [email protected].