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Female Gymnasts Are Given Reprieve at UCLA : Gender equity: Bruin officials suspend decision to drop program after receiving lawyer's letter.

August 21, 1993|ELLIOTT ALMOND | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Facing the threat of a gender-equity lawsuit, UCLA officials announced Friday the suspension of their decision to eliminate women's gymnastics.

The announcement was made 16 days after the school said it would drop the sport, along with men's gymnastics and swimming, after the 1993-94 academic year because of an athletic-department budget deficit of $900,000. The men's programs are not affected by the latest development.

School officials reconsidered on women's gymnastics this week after Jared Huffman of the law firm of Boyd, Huffman & Williams of San Francisco demanded that the team be reinstated because the termination violated Title IX, the federal gender-equity law enacted in 1972.

Peter Dalis, UCLA athletic director, said officials will consider new proposals offered by the NCAA task force on gender equity as well as evaluating recent Title IX court cases before making a final decision on the women's team.

"In weighing the alternatives available to us, we face difficult decisions no matter what path we follow," Dalis said in statement.

Bruin officials said they made the cuts based on a financial situation tied to the state's budget crisis and a decline in revenue generated by recent UCLA football and men's basketball teams.

The athletic department receives no state money and supports itself through revenue earned from football and men's basketball.

Huffman argued in a letter to UCLA that courts have not been sympathetic to schools' budget problems when deciding gender-equity violations. Auburn, Brown, Cal State Fullerton, Colorado State, Colgate, Temple, Texas and Washington State have been forced to either add or reinstate women's programs by the courts, the letter said.

Although the female gymnasts welcomed the decision, those interviewed said they want assurances it is not a temporary situation.

Megan Fenton, a junior from Sandy, Utah, said it was difficult to be overjoyed because of the tenuous nature of the circumstance.

But in the meantime, she said, the team will pursue its goal of winning a national title.

"This gives us added momentum," said Valorie Kondos, third-year co-coach.

Under Kondos and Scott Bull, the UCLA program has become one of the country's finest. The Bruins finished ninth nationally in 1992, and fourth last season.

Next season's team is expected to be one of the Bruins' best. But the announcement to drop the program hurt recruiting efforts.

"It has been devastating," Kondos said. "It set us back in the Dark Ages."

UCLA was expected to sign 1992 Olympian Dominique Dawes, but Kondos said the gymnast will not make a recruiting visit because of the unstable situation.

"If we don't win it next year, I don't see us winning for a few years after that," Kondos said.

Still, none of the recruits who had committed to UCLA, as well as returning gymnasts, asked to be released after the program was cut.

"I was going to stick with UCLA no matter what because I was pretty sure we would get it back," elite gymnast Liz Lehey said.

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