Schools fib facts for Title IX

An article in Tuesday's New York Times detailed the myriad ways colleges and universities are using manipulated statistics and boldfaced lies to make it look as though they're complying with Title IX. The devious and illegal acts shine a larger spotlight on the complexities involved with ensuring equality in athletics.

Title IX was passed in 1972 to give women and girls equal opportunity in federally financed education programs, including high school and collegiate athletics. Schools are now legally required to provide roster spots to males and females in proportion to their representation in the student body. As a result, female participation in sports has increased tenfold in high schools and by six times at the college level.

The Times article lists the University of South Florida as one of the schools that reportedly falsified team numbers in order to meet Title IX standards. With the addition of football in 1997, USF no longer was in compliance with Title IX. Shortly thereafter, the school reported a massive increase in the members of its women's cross country team: from 21 in 2002 to 75 in 2008. The 2009 team reportedly had 71 members, but fewer than half of those listed actually ran a race that year.

Another trick involves bending the rules when it comes to male practice players. According to the Times article, Cornell, 2011 NCAA women's basketball champion Texas A&M and Duke all have male practice players listed as female members of women's teams in sports such as basketball and fencing. A federal loophole allows for men to be counted as part of a women's squad if they receive coaching and practice with the women's team, and yet the same practice is not applied in reverse. For instance, at Cornell, five female coxswains on the men's crew team are listed as female athletes to allow for more male participants on the team.

There has been praise for the role Title IX has played in the growth of women's sports, but there has also been a backlash by those who believe that men's sports have suffered. Now it appears that many schools are willing to fib on the facts -- to break the law -- in order to open up more roster spots for men.

Complying with Title IX is not only the right thing for these schools to do, it's also the legal thing. Any ploys to hide the facts are inexcusable, but there is a part of me that understands the frustration schools must feel if demand isn't equal on both the men's and women's side of the ball. (Pun intended.) The best-case scenario would be for schools to offer the required spots to female athletes and then, if there isn't enough interest to fill them, allow men's teams to take on a few extra members. Unfortunately, it seems clear that many schools would likely report a false decrease in interest on the women's side in order to free up space for men.

When it comes to programs that are subsidized by our tax dollars, the desire for profit can't come ahead of the requirement to follow the law. Title IX might just need a fresh coat of paint and a new set of instructions, as the current iteration allows for far too much gray area in interpretation. Loopholes that allow coaches to lie about participants must be fixed. Creative "roster management" cannot be allowed to become standard practice.

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