NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) – A federal judge issued a preliminary injunction Friday that prevents Quinnipiac University in Connecticut from eliminating its women’s volleyball team, saying the team was likely to prevail in its gender equity case.

Judge Stefan Underhill granted an injunction that keeps the team intact until a lawsuit against the school can be heard. The ruling also prohibits the university from eliminating any other women’s teams or athletic participation opportunities.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut brought the lawsuit on behalf of the team and its coach, who say Quinnipiac isn’t in compliance the federal law mandating equal opportunities for female athletes, Title IX.

The university announced in March that it would eliminate women’s volleyball, men’s golf and men’s outdoor track and would promote cheerleading to varsity status.

“The ACLU of Connecticut is pleased the court has agreed with us and we’re especially pleased for the student athletes on the women’s volleyball team who will get to play next year,” said Patrick Doyle, a spokesman for the ACLU.

University attorney Mary Gambardella says Quinnipiac would be harmed if the volleyball team is reinstated because it has already eliminated men’s golf and outdoor track. She says reinstating women’s volleyball would leave the school without gender equity.

A telephone message was left for Gambardella.

Lynn Bushnell, vice president for public affairs, said in a stement the university will comply with the court’s ruling.

“However, it is important to note that today’s ruling says nothing about our historical compliance with Title IX matters based on all available facets of the statute,” Bushnell said.

“In fact, Quinnipiac is in full compliance with Title IX this year and expects to be in full compliance with Title IX moving forward both next year and in future years. Noncompliance with Title IX is not an option for Quinnipiac or any university.”

Underhill said the principle reason the women are likely to succeed is because Quinnipiac’s practice of setting floors for women’s rosters does not produce sufficient genuine participation opportunities for women.

“Floors impose an obligation on coaches to pump up roster numbers and to ‘carry’ players otherwise unsuited to further team goals,” Underhill wrote.

“The plaintiffs in this case offered credible evidence that the athletic department’s roster management numbers did not accurately reflect the actual number of genuine participation opportunities available to both genders at Quinnipiac,” Underhill wrote.

The judge said he had “no confidence” that the numbers Quinnipiac relied upon to prove equity are accurate indicators of genuine athletic participation opportunities.

The judge said he found no cases or other authority that sanctions the use of floors as a way of satisfying Title IX compliance. But he said further evidence and analysis of the roster policy is needed before reaching a final decision on the merits of the case.

Underhill also agreed that the students would be harmed, saying they have a limited amount of time to compete in college athletics and specifically chose Quinnipiac to play volleyball.

“The interruption in competition and the need to break into new programs with new coaches and established rosters will necessarily stunt the plaintiffs’ development as volleyball players at the highest level of amateur competition,” Underhill wrote.

AP-ES-05-22-09 1827EDT

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