Ever since Congress passed the federal gender-equity law known as Title IX, universities have opened their gyms and athletic fields to millions of women who previously did not have chances to play.
Title IX, passed in 1972 at the height of the women’s rights movement, banned sex discrimination in any federally financed education program. It threw into sharp relief the unequal treatment of male and female athletes on college campuses…
Over the next 40 years, the law spawned a cultural transformation: the number of women competing in college sports has soared by more than 500 percent — to 186,000 a year from fewer than 30,000 in 1972.
Universities must demonstrate compliance with Title IX in at least one of three ways: by showing that the number of female athletes is in proportion to overall female enrollment, by demonstrating a history of expanding opportunities for women, or by proving that they are meeting the athletic interests and abilities of their female students.
But as women have grown to 57 percent of American colleges’ enrollment, athletic programs have increasingly struggled to field a proportional number of female athletes. And instead of pouring money into new women’s teams or trimming the rosters of prized football teams, many colleges are turning to a sleight of hand known as roster management.
According to a review of public records from more than 20 colleges and universities by The New York Times, and an analysis of federal participation statistics from all 345 institutions in N.C.A.A. Division I — the highest level of college sports — many are padding women’s team rosters with underqualified, even unwitting, athletes. They are counting male practice players as women. And they are trimming the rosters of men’s teams.
According to the most current federal numbers, women make up 53 percent of the student body at Division I institutions yet only 46 percent of all athletes. And that discrepancy does not take into account all the tactics used to boost the numbers artificially.
- 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.
- Roster management came under scrutiny last year when a federal judge ruled that Quinnipiac University in Connecticut had violated Title IX by engaging in several questionable practices, including requiring that women cross-country runners join the indoor and outdoor track teams so they could be counted three times. The judge found earlier that Quinnipiac had been padding women’s rosters by counting players, then cutting them a few weeks later.
- 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.
- Sarah Till, who graduated from South Florida in 2009, was a more extreme case. She said that she quit and returned her track scholarship in her sophomore year, but her name was listed on the rosters of all three squads through her junior year. “They wanted to keep me on the roster because the more girls they have on the roster, the more positions they have to give for the guys’ teams,” she said, adding that a former assistant coach had told her she would receive running shoes and priority class registration as a reward for staying on the rosters.
Read the rest of Thomas’s article here at the NYTimes.