A Department of Education spokesman said that while he couldn't comment on specific complaints, the agency generally "discourages the elimination of [men's] teams because it diminishes opportunities for students interested in participating in athletics, and so is contrary to the spirit of Title IX."
The department's policy, said spokesman Jim Bradshaw, "is to seek remedies that do not involve the elimination of teams. Because every Title IX athletics case presents a unique set of facts, [the agency's Office of Civil Rights] does not have one standard approach for compliance in every case."
Erin Buzuvis, a professor at Western New England University School of Law, said she could understand why Towson officials would be concerned about the UC Davis case because they could well be vulnerable to litigation.
But, she said, "It's still not right to say, 'Title IX made us cut these teams.' "
Towson administrators said the school is making the best out of a tight budget and a tricky legal situation.
"We're going to end up here with more sports than College Park at Towson on a budget at a fraction of College Park," said Marina Cooper, the deputy chief of staff for Towson's president, Maravene S. Loeschke.
Cooper noted that Towson has traditionally been popular with women — it began as a teachers' college — and said she sees that trend continuing. "At the end of the day, we have to come in balance [for men and women athletes] and the program has to be self-sufficient," she said.
Still, cutting the men's teams created much turmoil, with players, parents, alumni and other supporters mounting a fight to reverse the decision. Eventually, Gov. Martin O'Malley and other state officials jumped into the fray, questioning the university's decision.
They crafted a plan to save Towson's baseball team with an infusion of $300,000, but university officials say that doesn't entirely fix the problem — the state funds are not enough to close the athletic department's budget gap, and it revives the Title IX problem that the team eliminations were intended to solve. (The state plan includes $2 million for a new women's softball field.)
Meanwhile, it does nothing to restore the men's soccer team, which now joins a list of college programs across the country that have been cut in recent years.
In 2011, for example, the University of Delaware downgraded men's track and cross country teams to club status, citing the need to comply with Title IX requirements. Officials said the change would allow the overall gender breakdown of athletic rosters to more closely mirror that of the student body, which at the time was 58 percent female and 42 percent male.
In 2006, James Madison announced it would cut 10 teams — seven men's and three women's — saying the move would bring the athletic department into compliance with Title IX. The lawsuit filed on behalf of the players was dismissed, and attempts to appeal as high as the Supreme Court were unsuccessful.
The real problem, some say, is not Title IX but the amount of resources eaten up by major sports such as football.
"Why has sports become so expensive at the college level to run?" asked Dionne Koller, a law professor at the University of Baltimore and director of the Center for Sport and the Law. "There's a bigger issue with that, and Title IX becomes the scapegoat."
Koller said Title IX was written without much direction for how colleges could comply with the sports equality requirement. As a result, much of that has been worked out through the courts as schools have battled lawsuits. Litigation from disgruntled students is the biggest worry for colleges, Koller said.
It is not clear how Towson will address the Title IX issue if it keeps the baseball program after the General Assembly action. Renovating the women's softball field will help the school address disparities in facilities. But rosters will still not match the proportion of men and women in the student body.
"The issue of proportionality will not be addressed fully by just eliminating soccer," said Michael Anselmi, the university's attorney. "We still have Title IX work to do."
Anselmi said officials were considering adding a women's team but were unsure how to pay for it. It is also unclear whether the baseball team can organize enough donors to match the $300,000 in grants offered by the state annually. A plan to restore men's tennis would be abandoned if baseball is returned, officials said.
Advocates say the fight over adding and cutting teams presents an unfair image that colleges are robbing Peter to pay Paul — or perhaps robbing Peter to pay for Paula's sports.
"Men's sports are still getting the lion's share of the money," said Neena Chaudhry of the National Women's Law Center. "Unfortunately, I think Title IX is an easy scapegoat. It's really unfortunate because it sort of pits the men against the women."
Baltimore Sun reporter Chris Korman contributed to this article.