Quick hit: How colleges get around Title IX (hint: it’s by lying)

It’s long been an open secret that colleges tend to work around the rules in order to make it look like they’re complying with Title IX, the law that, among other things, requires institutions that receive federal funding to distribute that money equally between men’s and women’s sports teams. Today, the New York Times ran a damning article about all the different loopholes that schools use to get around that requirement:

At the University of South Florida, more than half of the 71 women on the cross-country roster failed to run a race in 2009. Asked about it, a few laughed and said they did not know they were on the team.

At Marshall University, the women’s tennis coach recently invited three freshmen onto the team even though he knew they were not good enough to practice against his scholarship athletes, let alone compete. They could come to practice whenever they liked, he told them, and would not have to travel with the team.

At Cornell, only when the 34 fencers on the women’s team take off their protective masks at practice does it become clear that 15 of them are men. Texas A&M and Duke are among the elite women’s basketball teams that also take advantage of a federal loophole that allows them to report male practice players as female participants.

Go read the whole thing. It’s long, but it busts this thing wide open. And it’s just the first installment in a series on Title IX compliance, so stay tuned for more!

New York, NY

Chloe Angyal is a journalist and scholar of popular culture from Sydney, Australia. She joined the Feministing team in 2009. Her writing about politics and popular culture has been published in The Atlantic, The Guardian, New York magazine, Reuters, The LA Times and many other outlets in the US, Australia, UK, and France. She makes regular appearances on radio and television in the US and Australia. She has an AB in Sociology from Princeton University and a PhD in Arts and Media from the University of New South Wales. Her academic work focuses on Hollywood romantic comedies; her doctoral thesis was about how the genre depicts gender, sex, and power, and grew out of a series she wrote for Feministing, the Feministing Rom Com Review. Chloe is a Senior Facilitator at The OpEd Project and a Senior Advisor to The Harry Potter Alliance. You can read more of her writing at chloesangyal.com

Chloe Angyal is a journalist and scholar of popular culture from Sydney, Australia.

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  • http://feministing.com/members/cassius/ Brüno

    I do not see the harm. From what I read, Title IX is actually working. Girls are encouraged like never before to take up sports. From what I read so far the problem is that girls who are given the opportunity are not that interested.

    “At Marshall University, the women’s tennis coach recently invited three freshmen onto the team even though he knew they were not good enough to practice against his scholarship athletes, let alone compete.”

    But 3 more women were encouraged to look into Tennis, so what is the harm?

  • http://cabaretic.blogspot.com nazza

    It’s all about the money. The more I think about, the more I believe we need to treat male football players as the semi-pro athletes they are in everything but name. And as such, they don’t need to be factored into the discussion as is true with almost every other sport, be it for men or for women.

    But how does one find true parity when men’s sports have so much money infused within them?

    • http://feministing.com/members/mjameson/ Matthew T. Jameson

      “more I believe we need to treat male football players as the semi-pro athletes they are in everything but name.”

      What exactly do you mean by that? How do you think we should treat football players differently than they are currently treated? Also, you need to be careful about generalizing from a few, very high profile football teams to the entirety of male football players in colleges around the country. In reality, only a small percentage of football programs even break even, especially at the DII and DIII levels. Also, football players are semi-pro in “name only”? How bet the fact that they are not, except in a few cases of corruption, not paid?

      • http://feministing.com/members/mjameson/ Matthew T. Jameson

        Please pardon my lack of proofreading; I think you can decipher the points presented in my comments, despite the typos ;)

  • http://feministing.com/members/mjameson/ Matthew T. Jameson

    This is one of those issues that is sort of analogous to tax evasion versus tax avoidance. Because football is such a large expenditure, and involves so many roster spots, university athletic departments need to essentially waste money on women’s teams to balance the ledger. To call out athletic programs for finding creative ways to waste money is probably appropriate, but a bigger question remains: what would you rather have colleges do? You can either cut football teams and/or cut roster spots, which is unpopular at many schools, and makes a big dent in revenues, or you can add women’s teams (I think this is the preferred solution), cut non-revenue generating men’s teams, or find creative ways to waste money on women’s teams that are already present. Even the solution that I think is preferred (add women’s teams in less well-known or popular sports) has problems, since recruiting athletes and developing teams where regional interest may be non-existent can be a tough sell.

    It also may be occasion to give pause and think about the extent to which we are invested in the way that Title IX is written: gender equity=equal $$ expenditure. It probably helps to avoid completely marginalizing women’s sports, which is a good thing, but it also provides incentives for essentially wasting money on women’s teams in many ways that are not so overtly unethical as the examples in the article. For example, when I was a college athlete, one of the factors we always noticed was that men’s teams received new uniforms maybe once every other year, every three or sometimes every fourth year. Women’s teams, on the other hand, got new uniforms almost every year. Title IX was satisfied, but it did very, very little to promote true equity across the genders, and really just amounted to ledger-balancing to allow the football team to continue without cutting other men’s sports.

    So what do we do? Any ideas for legislation that would better accomplish the goals of Title IX without creating the incentive for legal and ethical loopholes that impede real progress?

    • http://feministing.com/members/danl/ Dan L

      Money isn’t the only factor, they’re also supposed to have participation close to the gender breakdown of the school, or failing that be able to prove that the interest is lower in the underrepresented group, but because that would be expensive to prove most aim for the former.

      I do agree with your sentiment about considering what factors mean equal in this context. For example a football team might have upwards of 100 people, most team sports are FAR lower than that. It might take 5 to 10 women’s sports to provide the same number of slots. At a hypothetical school where women athletes can pick from any of 10 sports to sign up for and men athletes can choose any sport they wish so long as it’s football, that would meet title ix but would it be in the spirit of it?

  • http://feministing.com/members/ethomps2/ Emily

    On one hand, Title IX is awesome. My roommate will give anyone a ten minute speech about how amazing it is, and what a big difference it makes. Unfortunately, it is still incredibly hard to implement. On one side I think it is because women athletes are still more uncommon than men. I ran on a Division I cross-country/indoor track/outdoor track team (I’m one of those girls that counts three times). We had All-American runners and we often struggled to even find enough girls to fill a meet. We had to form a partnership with the swim team where we would donate athletes to each other for races just to fill rosters. My graduating class filled 5 of the 7 slots on the cross country team and my coach had to scramble and beg for 5 new recruits when we graduated, so we wouldn’t be cut from the conference due to lack of interest.

    On the other hand, I think public opinion has a lot to do with low numbers on women’s sports teams. Our women’s volleyball, soccer, basketball and softball teams are really good, but they never pull in money like men’s basketball. And money talks. Even our men’s football team, which is so bad that they aren’t allowed to play in our conference, got a new field last year. The track team doesn’t have a track. The fact is that the money sports are men’s sports. Public opinion needs to change before women’s sports can start attracting donors and spectators. And universities are going to have to make some sacrifices to make that happen, especially in the budget. My university has been making progress, turning women’s volleyball games into big events with light shows and contests, and just by talking about how good they are. But it’s only a start. They need to attract students and alumni to other sports. They need to build a track so there can actually be spectators. This attention will pay off in the long run.

    • http://feministing.com/members/mjameson/ Matthew T. Jameson

      “This attention will pay off in the long run.” Do you mean in terms of profit, or in terms of gaining attention and student interest?

      • http://feministing.com/members/ethomps2/ Emily

        I mean that it will attract spectators, who will spend money on watching games/matches/meets. Well-funded programs will also attract more and better athletes, who will make the sports programs more robust and competitive. These two processes will feed into each other to bring more money and attention to women’s sports, not to mention the fact that successful alumni athletes will turn around and donate to programs that gave them so much. But right now there is not enough attention paid to women’s sports, and I think universities need to prime the pump with attention and well-placed funds (mini scholarships for example) to get the cycle going.

        • http://feministing.com/members/mjameson/ Matthew T. Jameson

          Yeah, I hear what you are saying, but the evidence is pretty conclusive that most sports, whether played by men OR women, lose money. Some college football teams make money (most don’t), as do some men’s college basketball teams and men’s hockey teams. A very, very small number of women’s sports teams (e.g. the University of Tennessee Women’s basketball team) make money. Other than that, nearly all teams lose money. Nearly all athletic departments, except the major TV-contracted programs like Notre Dame, USC, etc., lose money.

          What I’m trying to say hear is twofold: 1. Profits should not be the barometer by which we judge a sports worthiness. Universities invest in track teams, in wrestling teams, in field hockey teams, for reasons other than profit. 2. It probably is not realistic for most women’s teams in particular to make money, unless we see a major revolution in the way people think about sports. Particularly given how much money has been pumped into, say, the WNBA (it has been financially subsidized by the NBA for its entire existence and for years received ample TV coverage despite having some of the lowest ratings on sports networks).

          I’m not saying that we should put money into women’s sports; we should! But it should not be under the expectations that universities will reap financial benefits, since overwhelming evidence suggests that sports fans simply aren’t that interested in women’s sports (or, for that matter, so-called “non-revenue” sports played by men, like wrestling, rowing, and the like). Universities choose to field teams that don’t generate much interest or revenue for a variety of reasons, and will continue to do so. However, trying to argue that, “If you build it [fancy facilities for women's sports, etc.], they will come,” may actually be setting our cause up for failure, since most of the evidence suggests that they (fans) will not come, even if you build it.

  • http://feministing.com/members/franziakafka/ Franzia Kafka

    I was discussing college sports with my thesis advisor recently, after students at my state university were asked to vote in a referendum to raise tuition to “support” the sports programs. I voted against this tuition increase – I don’t see how sports programs benefit most students at the university, how they contribute to students’ academic growth, or, most importantly, how sports are more deserving of “more funding” than the multitude of other programs being cut at the university (our entire dance program is soon to be eliminated). Though I was at first taken aback by the idea – sports attached to public schools are so normalized that they seem almost natural – my advisor remarked that public schools would probably benefit from simply eliminating university-funded sports programs and letting students who want to play form rec leagues. The more I thought about it, the more I agreed. I understand sports are a means to a scholarship for some students, but, really, we should be giving scholarships to students based on need and merit, not their random athletic talents that have nothing to do with academic pursuits. While our dance athletes at the university are soon to exist no more, the crappy hyper-masculine football program is going to go on with no financial worries, because, pathetically, we find competitive sports (and money) more valuable than art.

    • davenj

      “pathetically, we find competitive sports (and money) more valuable than art.”

      What’s pathetic about valuing athletic competition when, at its highest, this is something many consider to BE a physical art form?

      • http://feministing.com/members/mjameson/ Matthew T. Jameson

        I had a similar thought: why is dance more valuable than football, simply because we -somewhat arbitrarily- classify one as “sport” and one as “art”? You even admit that when you label dancers as “athletes.”