No equity for Title IX women’s sports

30 April 2011

Why should we care that colleges have found ways of shirking Title IX rules that seek to create greater equity for women in college sports, as reported in last week’s New York TimesBecause those rules never demanded true equity to begin with. Everyone needs to stop acting as if colleges have been under some crazy burden to give women 50% of all resources. Title IX was never intended to deliver exact parity. To offer an analogy: it’s as if the federal government passes an equal pay act and 50 years later women are still only getting paid 77% of what men make, only to have men argue women are getting paid too much and stealing resources away from men. (Hey, wait a second…that’s pretty much true, too!)

First, a few truths about Title IX: this law does not demand exact equality between men’s and women’s sports. Rather, colleges can comply with it in one of three ways:

  1. by showing that the number of female athletes is in proportion to overall female enrollment
  2. by demonstrating a history of expanding opportunities for women
  3. by proving that they are meeting the athletic interests and abilities of their female students

Considering that women make up 57% of college student populations nationwide, it’s obvious that colleges are not complying via path #1. I know of no school that gives female students a majority of funds and resources. Instead, according to the best statistics I can find:

  • Division I institutions: women make up 53% of college student bodies but only 46% of athletes
  • Universities overall: women make up 57% of college student bodies but only 42% of athletes
  • Female college athletes receive 42% of athletic scholarship money
  • College women’s sports receive 36% of sports operating funds
  • Women’s teams receive 32% of recruiting funds

Again, all of this is legal so long as colleges show that they are doing their best to increase athletic opportunities for women or are otherwise meeting the athletic interests and abilities of female students. There is no equality for women’s college sports. Men’s sports still get the vast majority of university funds. And this does not count the vast amounts of booster funds that come in to support specific sports, creating vastly disproportional funds going to football and basketball. (How else do you think top-shelf football coaches can get paid $5 million per year?)

Title IX has been fought from the outset. The NCAA went to court in the 70s fighting to be excluded from the law but was denied a victory. Instead, many colleges simply disregarded the rules since there was no governmental regulation or punishment for noncompliance until 1992, when a Supreme Court case determined that individuals could receive monetary damages in court. In 2003 and 2004, a public battle took place again over Title IX, resulting in the Bush Administration opting to soften the rules even further. The Obama Administration quietly reversed that decision in 2010, returning Title IX to previous rules and seeking more enforcement of the law. But now it seems colleges are at it again, giving college women’s sports short shrift.

Here’s a quick rundown of the story (with quotes) from the NY Times: colleges have found ingenious ways of flouting the rules. Some schools count male athletes as women: 15 of the 34 players on Cornell’s women’s fencing team are men, while “Texas A&M, which just won the women’s Division I basketball championship, reported 32 players in the 2009-10 academic year, although 14 were men.” Or schools populate women’s teams with ghost players, as at the University of South Florida, where only 28 of the 71 women on the cross-country roster ran a race in 2009. “Asked about it, a few laughed and said they did not know they were on the team.” Still other schools engage in voodoo math: Quinnipiac University was found guilty last year of “requiring that women cross-country runners join the indoor and outdoor track teams so they could be counted three times,” according to the Times‘ story, and guilty too of adding names to a roster in time for the count but cutting those players a few weeks later.

Are colleges engaging in this duplicity because they can’t find women interested in participating in sports? No: they do it because they must submit annual reports listing the total numbers of women and men in athletics, and whereas it costs money to start a new team that women might want to sign up for, it costs a college nothing to add names, however fraudulently, to existing teams (honestly, 71 cross-country runners?). No one has shown that college women don’t want to engage in organized sports.

Nor should we confuse the question of whether a sport earns a profit in ticket sales with its value to the university. I understand the impulse to celebrate football teams that earn money for their universities, but not only is this relatively rare, but most men’s teams are as equally unprofitable as most women’s teams. Besides, as I’ve already mentioned, much of that income goes back into the coffers of profitable teams; it’s not distributed widely.

These facts make it all the more aggravating when journalists on the ever-reactionary, often anti-feminist Double X podcast (you guessed it, Hanna Rosin again!) last week offered this slew of false information and misinformed commentary on the issue. Rosin is introduced by her colleague Jessica Grose by saying, “So, Hanna, you have done tons of research on this topic. Can you tell us a little bit more about college women’s sport and Title IX more generally?”

Rosin: “Yes. I did not have the expected response to this article. You’re supposed to have the expected reaction of, just, you know, isn’t this is terrible, how could they be fudging the numbers, they’re giving it to the boys once again. But I raise my hand in exasperation and, just had the words Title IX reform! It’s time for Title IX reform! This is a law that was passed in the 70s that really doesn’t seem to any more reflect the reality of American colleges and there’s so much shenanigans they have to go through in order to comply with this law that it seems like we need to rewrite the law. Now that’s not to give credit – not to take away credit from all the amazing things that Title IX has done in terms of making it possible for women to be competitive and aggressive and participate in sports the way they never have been. But, like, if you’re padding the running team with people who have never run a race in their lives, like, what does that mean? You should force the women to run the race? I just, I just don’t know a way around this except to say, you know, ease up on the proportionality a little bit! It doesn’t have to absolutely be exact. Like, isn’t there a way to rewrite the law in which it’s not exact? So am I being, like, a crazy anti-feminist [unintelligible] here?”

Well, yes, Hanna, you may be a crazy anti-feminist, but mostly you’re a bad journalist who offers up false information about the subject you’re discussing. I’m not a journalist, but was able to find this information and statistics using reliable sources online in a single morning. Next time you use your journalist credentials to spout off — especially after being introduced as having “done tons of research on this topic” — do just a tiny amount of research ahead of time.

14 Responses to “No equity for Title IX women’s sports”

  1. Hattie Says:

    I enjoyed this. And I’m proud to say that I live in the late Patsy Mink’s district and had the chance to hear her speak on Title IX. Our local paper does one good thing: it gives good coverage of girls’ and women’s sports. But most of the money and attention go to boys’s and men’s sports anyway.
    The male coaches really push for their (male) teams and get a lot of money and attention for them. They stress the importance of creating good citizens through sport. Maybe women should consider this as an approach!

    • Didion Says:

      I’m a big fan of my university’s sports teams, both male and female. And one of the most heartwarming things you’ve ever seen in your life is the large groups of younger girls — middle-school and high-school age — who attend college women’s sports events in great numbers, all decked out in their own teams’ uniforms.

      In other words: having college women’s sports isn’t just so that women can participate in some kind of equitable fashion. It’s so they can inspire the girls who come after them.

    • Joe Says:

      Just wondering how much money do women’s sports generate for the universitiers? How much do universities spend. Where is the equity there?

      • Joe Says:

        Each of the 53 teams lost money in the 2010 fiscal year, and the average operating deficit was $2.01 million on an average $804,577 of revenue, according to the reports. The University of Tennessee, ranked fourth in the Associated Press Top 25, lost $713,997, while No. 7 Texas A&M University had a $2.8 million shortfall. No. 12 Michigan State University was $2.01 million in the red.

        Where is the equity?

      • Didion Says:

        Colleges often say that football is the only sport that makes, rather than loses, money — and that football therefore pays for all of them.

        Thus, I don’t see why making money should be an important question about college sports. I like sports, and like to watch college students do them — but why, I ask, should colleges go to such lengths not just to make them unequal to men and women, but to hide the ways they evade any possible claim to equity?

  2. JustMeMike Says:

    There is an article in the New York Times by a Katie Thomas: The headline reads:

    Colleges Cut Men’s Programs to Satisfy Title IX

    You can google that headline and find links to the article itself.


    • Didion Says:

      Here’s the article JMM cites. According to this article about the University of Delaware, it’s a story of men vs. women. I maintain that’s the wrong story to tell.

      But here’s my question: why does the Delaware football team need 106 players? Why doesn’t the track team ask, “Why does the university football team require over 9 times the required number of players on the field at once?”

      Rather than make this about men vs. women, it’s a question of football vs. all other sports.

      • JustMeMike Says:

        I admit to knowing nothing about the issues involved (Title IX). And I can readily see that there are minor sports that might be sacrificed to bring about a more equitable situation.

        But I can tell you that a football program is the most costly, and requires the most available bodies for a team. 11 players for the offense, 11 players for the defense, maybe 11 players for the kick off team (receiving), maybe 11 players for the kick off team (kicking), 11 players for the punt return team (receiving), and 11 players for the punt return team (kicking) plus back ups, plus kickers – punts, kickoffs, extra points, field goals. And that’s being very very generous seeing how professional teams make do with about 50.

        Still – 106 seems high. Especially if the school takes all 106 for road games. Let’s call it exorbitantly high.

        I can readily buy into the argument that this one sport takes up a disproportionate amount of a school’s Athletic budget.

        On the other hand football brings in the most revenue but likely is not the most profitable. On those numbers alone I can agree that the situation isn’t equitable at all.


      • Didion Says:

        Wow. I didn’t know that pro teams have about 50 on their squads. It makes the 106 look especially stupid. Nor is 106 unusual for college teams — the NY Times piece mentions that “the average Division I football team went from 95 players 30 years ago to 111 players in 2009-10.” That increase of 16 players is an entire basketball team, volleyball team, or uninflated cross-country team.

  3. Joe Says:

    There are 53 on a pro roster but in college players can become inelligible for academic reasons, they get injured more often and the schools can’t just add to the roster do to NCAA rules. In the pro’s they can add to the roster make trades etc. Also many of the 53 players can play multiple positions. The college players are not getting paid, outside of a scholarship, so the cost per player is far less than in the pro’s.

    • Didion Says:

      I’m still not sure I see why a college might need more than twice the number of football players than pro teams have, even if they get injured. This is unbelievably excessive.

      • joe bags Says:

        Well it shows a total lack of understanding college sports vs pros. They have 5 years of players not 1 year like pros. You have freshmen, redshirt freshmen, sophmores, juniors, seniors. They need to develop those players, some flunk out, some quit, some get injured some turn pro early. You need to develop the players. Why do womens basketball teams have more that 8 players? You only need 8 or 9. Usually only 8 or 9 play? Not all players are on scholarship and the pros are already at the height of their game so you have enough to play and then hopefully a back up in every position. They can add players in the pros during the season as well and college cannot.

      • Didion Says:

        You’d say exactly the same thing if they had 225 players on the team. And they do NOT have 5 years’ worth of players; they have 1 year’s worth at any given time. Colleges pick up new lead players from year to year just like in the pros. Of course some players get developed over time or get dropped — exactly like in the pros. Even if we believe that a team has 22 separate positions that need to be covered (which is a stretch), this system allows colleges five separate strings of talent, more than twice the number required by the pros. Many of these players never see a single minute of playing time in their 4 or 5 years in college.

        Let me note here that I’m not saying a team shouldn’t have backup players on the bench — of course not. What I’m saying is that if a college football team could whittle down its football roster so that there are only 3 backup players for each position instead of 4, then maybe colleges could honestly offer gender equity in college sports overall rather than lying about it, or demanding that the federal government change its civil rights legislation so they don’t even have to try.

  4. […] It’s the 40th anniversary of Title IX — that groundbreaking bit of legislation that facilitated women’s educational equality on many levels, including sports. No one would doubt the fundamentally radical effects on women’s senses of self as a result. Even if we acknowledge that the law never sought to establish, nor did it achieve, anything measuring true equity, as I’ve written about before. […]

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