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A closer look at the sports bra controversy at Rowan University

A conflict about practice space turned into a debate over dress code at Rowan University in Glassboro, New Jersey

On Tuesday October 30, the Rowan University cross-country team did a workout on the university’s track in Glassboro, New Jersey. They were preparing for regionals, and getting some speed work in before the race. Hannah Vendetta, a senior on the cross-country team and member of the S.A.A.C (student athletic advisory committee), said that their coach and the school’s football coach got into an argument after practice. 

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A conflict about practice space turned into a debate over dress code. According to Jose Cardona, Vice President for University Relations from Rowan University, the football coach didn’t want other teams using the facility during their practice time. “The football coach didn’t want other teams using the track during their practices. The cross-country team was offered the facility after football practice, but they didn’t want that time slot.”

Following the argument at practice, a meeting was called to discuss practice space and sort out when each team would be using the facility. Vendetta says that after the meeting, the team learned that cross-country practice was deemed a distraction and that their practices would be relocated to the high school track across the street. “In that meeting they came to the conclusion that we are no longer allowed to wear only sports bras, and we are no longer allowed to use the field while football practice is happening.”

However, the university suggests that there had been a longstanding policy that athletic venues dedicate their space to one team at a time. Cardona says that the cross-country team had previously been offered a later time slot on the university’s track or given the option to use the high school track across the street. According to him, the coach agreed with this solution. “The cross-country coach was happy with the solution because it’s only during the fall that there’s a scheduling conflict. The cross-country coach would rather hold practices earlier, than move to the time slot he was given.”

Cardona suggested that the cross-country team was only at the university’s track because the high school track was locked on that day. The statement above released by the university reinforces that. 

But Vendetta said that she has never used the high school track. “The cross-country team has practiced alongside the football team for years.” Vendetta also included that moving practice time wasn’t an option. “From preseason to May our practice time has always been 3:30 p.m. sharp. Our schedules are set around that time. The dining halls close at a certain time and we have classes, we can’t change when we practice.”

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The meeting ended up addressing more than practice schedule. It was also brought up in the meeting that on top of using the track outside of their allotted hours, the cross-country team was running without shirts on. Cardona explains, “There has been a long standing verbal policy that’s intended to create standards. NCAA athletes have standards you try to instill in them. In basketball you wear a shirt – everyone wears a shirt. There are expectations.”

However, the women were wearing sports bras, a garment they consider to be a shirt, and on top of that, the cross-country team wasn’t given a practice uniform like the other teams. Rowan University had an unwritten policy about uniforms that said everyone must wear a shirt while practicing. In an effort to clear up any confusion going forward, this policy will be written down and sports bras are to be considered shirts.

Going forward, the cross-country team will practice at the high school across the street from the university when their practice conflicts with another team’s schedule. In terms of dress code, sports bras will be considered shirts and Cardona said that providing the team with practice uniforms could be a solution. Vendetta stresses that she loves her school, but the policies instated by the athletic department don’t make sense. “This is in no way the university’s fault. This stems from the athletic department.”