How some schools sidestep Title IX’s protections for women

Title IX, the federal law that bars educational institutions from discriminating on the basis of sex turned 50 this week. But some top college sports programs are skirting the spirit, if not the letter, of the law. Ali Rogin speaks with USA Today reporter Rachel Axon who investigated how schools miscount female athletes.

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  • Geoff Bennett:

    Title IX turned 50 this past week, the federal law bars educational institutions from discriminating on the basis of sex, most recognizably in athletics, but some top college sports programs are skirting the spirit, if not the letter, of the law. Ali Rogin is back with a look at that.

  • Ali Rogin:

    A new investigation by USA Today surveyed 107 of the nation's top colleges and universities for athletics. It found that most of them are creating the illusion of gender equity in their sports programs. First, some schools count men who practice with the women's teams as full members of the female squat. Colleges also double and triple count athletes if they're eligible to compete in more than one sport. And schools routinely use the sport of rowing to inflate their female rosters. Some count rowers who work out and practice with the team, but never compete.

    For more on this, I'm joined by USA Today's Rachel Axon who helped lead this investigation. And Nancy Hogshead-Makar, a Civil Rights Attorney, three time Olympic Gold Medalist in swimming, and the founder of Champion Women, an organization dedicated to gender equality in sports for girls and women. Rachel, I'd like to start with you. Why do schools do this?

  • Rachel Axon, Sports Investigative Reporter, USA Today:

    Well, the short answer is they can. Some of these counting methods are allowed under the rules. So you talked about double and triple counting, they will frequently count cross country indoor and outdoor track and field. So one female athlete can count two or three times. Take Florida State as an example, they had 13 men on their cross country roster, 43 on their women's cross country roster. So when you multiply that out, it certainly looks like a lot more opportunities, even if they are not.

    You mentioned the male practice players, the federal government allows that type of counting. Having these numbers out there is the best publicly available numbers allows those schools to avoid scrutiny, either in the form of a complaint to the federal government or in a federal lawsuit. So if they look better than maybe someone doesn't do one of those complaints, they also know there's effectively no enforcement from the federal government, even when they come in and investigate or do a compliance review, the worst that's going to happen is they're going to sign a resolution agreement, promise to fix it and have years to make these changes.

  • Ali Rogin:

    And to pick up on that lack of enforcement, Nancy, you've been sounding the alarm on this for a really long time, what needs to change? What do colleges and universities need to do to make things more equitable, not just on paper?

  • Nancy Hogshead-Makar, Civil Rights Attorney:

    Colleges and universities know what they need to do to make things more equitable, they can go into — look at the difference between their football and their baseball and softball facilities. So they know what to do. The issue is how can you actually get change. The NCAA used to require schools to show that they were moving towards gender equity as soon as the head of the NCAA Mark Emmert, came on board, they stopped doing that. And as a result, the gap between men and women in the last 17 years has grown by 28%. So the — like history is not going to solve this problem. What we do at Champion Women, is we try to empower current students to make it happen.

  • Ali Rogin:

    And when did Mark Emmert come online? When did these roles changed?

  • Nancy Hogshead-Makar:

    In 2010, he stopped it.

  • Ali Rogin:

    Certainly something that has affected generations now of college athletes as they're coming through.

    Rachel, I want to turn back to you. And I want to talk about the real world implications for this. Beyond the numbers on the page that these colleges are required to report, what are the real world implications for these women's sports programs when reporting gets distorted like this?

  • Rachel Axon:

    Absolutely, there are massive implications, these decisions to make the numbers look better, instead of actually making them better deprive women of opportunities and all the benefits that we know that come from sports. So we did further reporting that showed that 87% of schools are not offering proportionate opportunities. To do that, they'd have to add 11,501 spots for women. And we know the skills and the tools that it gives women. There's one study that found that 94% of C-suite women had experience playing a sport. So when you don't have those opportunities, it has ripple effects beyond just their college experience.

  • Ali Rogin:

    And Nancy, I want to talk about what you mentioned earlier, which is football teams, USA Today looked at D1 school, so we're talking about division one athletics, those schools, the football teams tend to be provide huge, lots and lots of players, hundreds of players, they can be cash machines for the schools. And so there are some who argue that football teams should be exempt from Title IX requirements for parity, how do you respond to that?

  • Nancy Hogshead-Makar:

    What Title IX requires is that schools do not allow sex discrimination in any program or activity. As long as football is a program or activity then women are entitled to the same program and activity. So, it doesn't have to be football, obviously. Everybody can see that there are women's football programs, but you can have more women's rugby, more women's wrestling. You can have more women's equestrian and right, you can — they can add more sports for women. It doesn't have to be — the law doesn't care about what the uniform is, the law cares about, are you giving exactly what Rachel was talking, those types of educational opportunities.

  • Ali Rogin:

    And I think is, as you and Rachel have both pointed out the demand is there, it's not that there's lack of female athletes wanting to compete?

  • Nancy Hogshead-Makar:

    Yeah, absolutely. So girls in Maine have three times the sports opportunities that boys in Florida in the high school level have. And it's not because they don't. The girls in Maine suddenly want more opportunities. It's the size of the athletic department.

  • Ali Rogin:

    Rachel Axon with USA Today and Nancy Hogshead-Makar with Champion Women, also an Olympic Gold Medalist in swimming. Thank you so much, both of you for joining us.

  • Nancy Hogshead-Makar:

    Thank you for having us.

  • Rachel Axon:

    Thank you.

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