Athletes on the women's field hockey team at the University of California, Berkeley, are considering a lawsuit against the school for taking away their field to build a parking garage without providing a replacement.
The field hockey players were told during the fall 2013 semester they would lose their field at the end of the season so the school could build a parking garage. UC Berkeley promised the players a new field, but didn't start construction on it until earlier this month. The university did build a replacement field in spring 2014, but it used the wrong kind of turf. The men's football and lacrosse teams can use that field, and indeed are doing so, but the women's field hockey team has to play on the turf of their rival, Stanford University -- an hour's drive away, on the other side of the Bay Area.
Athletes say the extra two hours of travel time per practice has cut into their sleep schedules and forced some of them to drop classes. Plus, the students say, it's degrading to have to play on their rival's home field.
Students held a campus protest last week accusing the school of dragging its feet, in an effort to increase pressure on the administration to provide them with a proper field.
Originally, the students weren't mad about being displaced temporarily, said Kristen Lee, a junior and defender on the team. But that was when they felt confident about the "prospect of a nice, new field."
"Now," said Lee, "I'm coming into my senior season wondering if I'm going to have a home field to play on."
Cal Athletics spokesman Wesley Mallette said in a statement that the university is working with its campus construction design staff on a "daily basis to navigate through the complex process of expediting construction" for both temporary and permanent facilities.
"This has been and will continue to remain a top priority for our Athletics Department," Mallette said. "Although the project has experienced a brief delay, our campus partners understand the importance of completing these facilities in an expedited manner."
Students on the team say they were told in October 2014 they'd have a new field built for the spring 2015 semester. However, construction on that facility did not start until Feb. 2. Mallette did not respond to questions about why construction was delayed.
The field hockey team needs to play on AstroTurf, which is water-based and rolls out like carpet. The field currently used by the men's football and lacrosse teams is covered with the type of turf that has small black pebbles in it.
Several members of the field hockey team have been working with attorneys at Equal Rights Advocates, a civil rights nonprofit based in the Bay Area. They're weighing the idea of bringing a lawsuit on the grounds that the school allegedly violated the gender equity law Title IX when it displaced the women's team.
Erin Buzuvis, director of the Center for Gender & Sexuality Studies at the Western New England University School of Law, believes there's a good chance the unequal treatment of UC Berkeley's men's and women's teams in this situation constitutes a Title IX violation.
"Conceivably, Berkeley could defend the charge of sex discrimination by pointing to other situations involving men's teams that have been displaced under similar conditions involving egregious delays and long-distance travel," Buzuvis said. "Otherwise, it looks like they are singling out a women's team for inferior treatment."
Lee said that at this point, the players feel demoralized about the support they're receiving from the university.
"We come to our school thinking we want to represent our school in the best way possible," she said. "But now, it's like we can't represent our school at all, because it feels like they aren't supporting us in any way."A view of the old stadium in fall 2013: