The Title IX Shell Game

 

When Title IX was first passed by the U. S. Congress in 1972 there were fewer than 30,000 women competing on varsity sports teams on college campuses across the country. This past academic year there were some 186,000 women competing at all levels for NCAA member schools.

This fact reflects undeniable progress that has been achieved in offering greater opportunities for women to compete at the varsity level on athletic teams. Yet there are critics of compliance efforts who have for years pointed to techniques allegedly used by many schools to artificially inflate the numbers of women competing on varsity sports teams. This number is important because over the years federal courts have required that the numbers of women competing on varsity athletic teams at all levels of competition be proportionate to the overall percentage of women enrolled on those campuses and/or be roughly equivalent to the numbers of men competing on those same campuses.

The New York Times has been running a series of articles this week on compliance with Title IX. These stories have once again brought these issues to the forefront of many people’s minds. The articles have engendered literally hundreds of comments on the Times website. Some of the games being played by college athletic departments leave a reader wondering whether to laugh or cry.

My favorite ploy may be the one employed by the University of South Florida’s women’s cross country team. Last fall it listed 71 runners on its roster. More than half of those women never competed in a single meet and in fact more than one told the Times reported she never knew she was even on the team until shown a copy of the official roster.

Schools such as Texas A & M and Duke listed men as members of their women’s basketball teams. This seemingly impossible fact is accomplished because these schools use male students as members of the women’s team practice squads who regularly practice against the women to help get them used to playing a more physical and fast-paced game.

Part of the problem today is that women now account for 57% of all undergraduates at NCAA Division I colleges and universities. The proportionality test used by the federal courts requires schools to increase the numbers of women competing. One obvious way to do this would be to add women’s sports teams. This costs money, however, which is in short supply today in most college athletic departments. Counting men or simply adding women whom everyone knows won’t really compete is a much cheaper way to attempt to show compliance with the law.

Donna Shalala, President of the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Florida was quoted by the Times as stating that “roster management” techniques have quietly been in use for years and continue at a school until it gets caught. The Times reviewed public records and federal participation statistics from all 345 NCAA Division I athletic programs and concluded that “many of them” were in fact doing this in one manner or another.

Advocates for men’s teams point out that schools are eliminating men’s teams in non-revenue sports in order to comply with Title IX. The X-factor in all of this is of course football. Studies have shown in fact that the numbers on football rosters at Football Bowl Championship Series schools have actually increased over the past 30 years. Football has so far been immune from budget cuts because of the argument that big-time football generates most of the revenue needed to run an overall college athletic program.

Readers can read the original Times article published April 26 and two follow up articles by clicking on the links listed below. Readers are invited to share your comments on this timely and controversial subject.

 

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