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Stopping the count: How Power 5 schools avoid Title IX compliance

There are many more women in college athletics now than at any point in history, but universities are still up to their old tricks to manipulate representation statistics.

There are many more women in college athletics now than at any point in history, but universities are still up to their old tricks to manipulate representation statistics.
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It’s been 50 years since Title IX was signed into law. It’s been 38 years since the Supreme Court ruled that Title IX didn’t apply to college athletics, and 34 years since Congress overruled that decision through legislation. And it’s been one year since duplicate counting of female college athletes added 4,000 more names than duplicate counting of male athletes to the NCAA’s participant tallies, per Yahoo Sports — effectively lying about the required gender breakdown between student athletes.

Since Title IX was passed, colleges and universities have been doing anything and everything they can to get around it. And it’s not just the mid-majors with low budgets and no room for scholarships — no, it’s the wealthy Power 5 schools, the ones who brush off multi-million dollar football facilities but refuse to furnish scholarships for women’s sports at their school.

Getting around Title IX: A how-to

Per yesterday’s Yahoo report, double- and triple-counting members of indoor track & field, outdoor track & field, and cross country athletes as individual members of three different teams — whether or not they actually compete on those teams — is only one way that universities fake their compliance numbers.

Schools will count male practice players for their women’s basketball teams as female athletes, and the number of practice players will often exceed the number of actual female team members. This is happening at places like Michigan, UConn, TCU — not exactly nobodies strapped for athletic cash. TCU, per the article, has been reporting 30 women’s basketball players per year since 2013 — around half of whom are men.

And then there’s the rowing solution to the football problem. There was no women’s sport that compared to the size of a football roster — until, in the early 1990s, they figured out a loophole. A Division I women’s rowing team only needs 37 athletes to compete for a conference title, and only 23 to compete for NCAAs. But coaches and athletic directors are frequently required to pad the rosters up into the 90 to 100 range with walk-ons for compliance records, only to cut a huge chunk from the team after the first competition of the season — meaning they were also cut off from student athlete benefits like tutoring, facility usage, athletic gear, access to the athlete dining services, and more.

Athletes who are counted on these teams like track & field or rowing don’t ever actually have to participate in a meet or competition, and many don’t. They’re the equivalent of practice players, overfilled rosters that schools have no intention of actually using to compete.

And the problem is that these are all technically legal loopholes within Title IX. Fifty years later, perhaps the law needs to be revisited, as these Power 5 programs worm their way out of compliance with a law that completely changed the game for American girls and women. The legislation should be a moving, breathing thing that shifts with time and necessity, but no one seems to be paying attention — no school has ever lost federal funding for failing to comply with Title IX, either openly or behind closed doors, so there’s no real teeth behind the law.

The football problem

It’s the biggest challenge to Title IX compliance: How to fix the football problem without cutting men’s teams or adding the funding necessary for extra women’s teams is the question on every AD’s mind, and it gets far more complicated as we delve into the many other debates hovering around college football at this very moment.

How much the football program brings in financially compared to other sports isn’t really a factor here in terms of roster size. It’s not the same as professional leagues — as much as it may not feel like it at times, it’s just a school sport. For now.

With growing calls to recognize college football players as school employees, it’s worth asking what it would take to remove football from the Title IX equation, thus lessening the men’s scholarship count by around 100 student athletes. With the information above, women’s sports may not even suffer if the double-counting, counting men, and roster stuffing were to stop after such a change, but would a lot of schools just cut a women’s team or two in response? Yeah, probably. It’s an interesting case to consider, but one that is, at the moment, a faraway hypothetical. 

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