Equity & Diversity

Colleges Shirking Title IX Rules, Investigation Reveals

By Bryan Toporek — April 26, 2011 5 min read
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A New York Times review released today found that Division I colleges across the U.S. are finagling their way around Title IX rules by counting male athletes on women’s rosters, trimming male rosters, or adding female student-athletes to team rosters without the students’ knowledge.

The Times reviewed the public records of more than 20 colleges and universities, along with the federal participation statistics of all 345 Division I institutions, and found that many of the reported gains in female student-athlete participation had been doctored. The paper didn’t give an exact number of how many schools manipulated rosters to comply with Title IX regulations, but did say that “double- and triple-counting women [on rosters] has allowed four dozen Division I universities to mask the fact that they have fewer female athletes.”

The Times report wasn’t shy about naming programs allegedly exploiting some of the federal Title IX loopholes. More than half the 71 women on the University of South Florida’s cross-country team didn’t run a race in 2009, according to the Times, and when the newspaper inquired about it, “a few laughed and said they did not know they were on the team.”

According to the paper, “Female runners can be a bonanza because a single athlete can be counted up to three times, as a member of the cross-country and the indoor and outdoor track teams.”

Quinnipiac University got in trouble

last year for a similar practice, as a judge determined that the school required its female cross-country runners to register for both indoor and outdoor track (along with cross-country) to boost participation numbers.

Congress passed Title IX in 1972, which prohibits gender discrimination in federally financed education programs. According to the Times, the law sparked a cultural transformation, as the number of women participating in college sports jumped from fewer than 30,000 per year in 1972 to 186,000 per year now. High school sports have seen a similar jump in female participation in the past 40 years, according to data

from the National Federation of State High School Associations. Slightly under 300,000 females participated in high school sports nationwide in the 1971-72 school year; that figure rose to nearly 3.2 million female high school athletes in 2009-10.

A 2010 report from the American Council on Education found that 57 percent of enrolled college students in the U.S. are female. The Times reported that women make up 53 percent of the student body at Division I schools but only 46 percent of student-athletes, according to the most current federal numbers.

Schools can demonstrate their Title IX compliance in one of three ways: 1) show that female athletic participation is in proportion to total female enrollment on campus; 2) demonstrate a history of expanding athletic opportunities for females; or 3) prove that they are meeting the athletic interests and abilities of female students.

USF and Quinnipiac weren’t the only schools playing with funny math in terms of Title IX rules, according to the Times. Marshall’s women’s tennis team took on three freshman walk-ons this year to satisfy the athletic department’s 10-athlete minimum, even though “they weren’t good enough to practice, let alone compete.” Fifteen of the 34 athletes on the Cornell women’s fencing team are actually men. And the women’s basketball teams at Texas A&M and Duke also count male practice players as female participants, according to the newspaper.

The Times reached out to the U.S. Department of Education about the practice of counting men who practice with women’s teams as female participants, and received a somewhat stunning response. David A. Bergeron, the deputy assistant secretary in the office of postsecondary education, said “men should be counted on women’s teams if they receive coaching and practice with women.”

Russlynn H. Ali is the assistant secretary at the Department of Education who leads the Office for Civil Rights, which is responsible for enforcing Title IX. When contacted by the Times, she said “universities investigated by her office would never get away with counting men as women, but acknowledged that a formal inquiry is rare.”

“I would hope, as someone who cares about these issues, that that data is accurate and that institutions would not try and game it,” Ali told the paper.

The fact that schools are likely manipulating their female student-athlete participation figures isn’t that shocking. The fact that many of the involved coaches and school officials would openly discuss their rule-bending tactics could be seen as a bit more surprising. For instance, Todd Kennett, a coach for the Cornell men’s rowing team, admitted that the five female coxswains on his roster count as women, which allows him to put more men on his roster.

In conjunction with the report, the Times and CBS News issued a Title IX poll completed by a total of 1,266 participants during the first week of March—629 men and 637 women.

Respondents were asked over the phone about their views on the athletic opportunities presented to males and females in both high schools and colleges. More than 70 percent of those surveyed believe that it’s important for girls to have the same athletic opportunities as boys in high schools; however, 47 percent said that they believe girls have fewer opportunities than boys to play high school sports.

The poll found that 64 percent of those surveyed knew “not much” or “nothing at all” about Title IX. But, of those who did know about Title IX, men were more likely than women to say that the law had been beneficial. Eighty-four percent of men believe Title IX has been mostly positive for women, compared to 72 percent of women; more surprisingly, 62 percent of men believe Title IX has also had a mainly positive impact on men’s sports, while only 55 percent of women believe the same.

The margin of sampling error for the poll is plus or minus 3 percentage points for all adults and plus or minus 4 points for the subgroups of men and women. (Read more about the methodology of the survey here.)

One university that may be happy to hear this Title IX news: the University of Delaware. Just this past weekend, news broke that the Dept. of Ed. is reviewing the school’s decision to drop its men’s cross-country and track teams, after members of the men’s teams complained to the Office for Civil Rights. The University of Delaware cited Title IX concerns when the end of the male track program was announced in January (as the women’s cross-country and track teams were retained), according to The News Journal in Delaware. The male runners allege that the university is now depriving men of the same athletic opportunities.

UPDATE (7/29): For all of the Belorussian readers of Schooled in Sports out there, a reader was kind enough to translate this entry for you. Check it out here.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Schooled in Sports blog.