Cheating for equality: “The New York Times” uncovers Title IX compliance fraud

The concept behind Title IX is simple: Women deserve equal opportunities in college, both in academics and athletics.

As a federal statute, Title IX is also simple:

Enforcing the statute, however, is not simple at all. And like every law, Title IX has sparked a variety of creative ways to comply — without complying at all.

This week, The New York Times published the first article in a series examining how colleges have dealt with Title IX compliance since 1972, when the law went into effect: “College Teams, Relying on Deception, Undermine Gender Equality.”

The headline says it all. Reporter Katie Thomas found that some schools are deliberately undermining gender equality laws by manipulating statistics, padding rosters and even counting male practice players as women.

The practices aren’t surprising — we read about lawsuits alleging Title IX violations from time to time. But Thomas found that cheating is more common and more blatant than anyone expected. And it is not confined to small schools struggling with small budgets for athletics.

From the article:

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.

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.

Yikes.

In fairness, Division I athletic programs violate no rules counting male practice players as members of the women’s teams, provided the men actually receive coaching and playtime in practice. But if that is the case, women participants on men’s teams should be counted the same way. Yet, Cornell counted five female members of the men’s rowing team as female athletes.

As Lin Dunn, head coach of the Indiana Fever, tweeted Wednesday, “We all KNOW the spirit of the rule. It may not be illegal but it certainly ‘stinks.’”

As you can imagine, the NYT report garnered a lot of reaction from sports blogs, women’s sports organizations, coaches and athletes, as well as university spokespeople. But probably the most succinct statement came from UConn women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma.

Nail on the head. Title IX is about creating opportunities for women athletes, not forcing women to play sports. And certainly not counting people that aren’t women or aren’t playing as members of women’s teams.

One of the provisions of Title IX is that it gives colleges credit for trying to comply through showing progress — expanding opportunities for the underrepresented gender to participate in athletics. In other words, universities won’t be punished if women aren’t playing sports, as long as real opportunity exists. Yet Thomas found that many athletic departments prefer to lie about participation instead of creating opportunity.

Exposure of the problem is just the beginning of finding a solution. But I’m interested in hearing from participants in college sports (present or past). What is your perspective on Title IX enforcement? Have you seen obvious violations of the spirit of the law? Do you have any suggestions for how to approach the issue?

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