Commentary

Title IX compliance: Keep existing sports, add more for women, cut football spending

This pandemic-ridden year may not seem like the best time to be pushing colleges to add sports.

Not when colleges are cutting back. Not when students are considering gap years that would eat into the student fees that help most athletics departments balance the budget. Not when mighty Stanford comes to the grim realization that supporting 36 varsity sports just isn’t feasible.

But for Title IX advocates, the best defense is a strong offense.

That tactic might scare people fretting about whether men’s soccer programs will survive Title IX scrutiny in addition to Covid-19 and the bursting of the college sports financial bubble. The idea, though, is to make sure athletics departments don’t forget their overdue gender-equity bills while making their future plans.

So the advocates aren’t going after men’s soccer or wrestling or any other sport. Trim the fat from football and elsewhere, keep existing sports and add more for women.

Cut costs, not sports. And level the playing field.

To that end, ChampionWomen, the group started by Olympic gold medalist and longtime women’s sports advocate Nancy Hogshead-Makar, recently unveiled a comprehensive database that lets viewers drill down and see how their alma maters stand in terms of Title IX compliance.

The answer: not well.

Most of the exceptions are those that have a gender balance heavily skewed one way or the other. Texas Woman’s College and Ursuline College have a few men enrolled but no men’s sports. Hampden-Sydney needn’t worry about creating a women’s sports programs for its two (2!) undergraduate women.

So congratulations, New Jersey Institute of Technology (76.29% male). You’re the only school that played in the 2019 Division I men’s soccer tournament that earned a passing grade. The only other schools in Division I that passed are The Citadel (89.75% male) and Virginia Military Institute (87.06%).

Strict gender representation has always been an odd fit with Title IX, which was intended to be an educational equity act. You’d think the pressure to add women’s sports should be on NJIT, which needs to find a way to bring women to campus, rather than Mercer, which would have a better chance of meeting Title IX’s athletics requirements if its student body wasn’t more than 60% female. Anyone up for skiing in Macon, Georgia?

Meeting such gender representation will be more important going forward than it has been in the past. Satisfying Title IX has always been based on a three-prong test in which colleges that couldn’t meet the first prong -- equal gender representation -- could still pass one of two less quantifiable prongs.

The second prong, progress toward gender equity (“a history and continuing practice of expanding participation opportunities”), won’t fly any more. The Title IX data site makes that point with a prominent note at the bottom: “48 years since Title IX passed -- it’s been long enough.” That point was reinforced at the webinar introducing the website, in which panelists questioned whether schools that haven’t reached gender equity after all this time are really “expanding participation opportunities.”

The third prong is more complicated. That prong in its entirety: “The institution is fully and effectively accommodating the interests and abilities of the underrepresented sex.”

A bit nebulous, isn’t it? Most colleges, even in NCAA Division III, look for “interest and ability” in the admissions process, not when students have already arrived on campus. Most student-athletes, even in Division III, take sports opportunities into account when picking a college. If colleges are looking for women who can and want to play lacrosse or field hockey at a Division I level, they probably won’t find many who aren’t already at schools with lacrosse and field hockey. If they’re simply asking in the abstract whether people would like to be on a sports team, many more people would say yes.

Perhaps one way to assess interest is to look at participation numbers in high school and youth sports. That wouldn’t address gender equity directly, but perhaps it would give a better sense of what sports both girls and boys want to play.

Which brings us to football.

Football has slightly more than 1 million high school participants, according to the NCAA’s 2018-19 numbers. Boys’ soccer has 459,000, not including the 13% of NCAA players who didn’t play for their high school teams or the countless people who didn’t make their teams.

So why does a high school football player have more than twice as much of a chance of playing in Division I than a high school soccer player has? Why do football players have 30,423 full-scholarship equivalents, more than triple the 8,564 available in men’s soccer, according to ScholarshipStats.com?

Women’s sports as a whole also aren’t taking interest into account. Nearly half of NCAA women’s rowers didn’t compete for high school or club teams. The equivalent number for women’s soccer is 1%. The NCAA says 1,395 women competed in equestrian, the college version of which bears little resemblance to Olympic competition but is a pretty good option for the 1,318 participants reported in U.S. high schools.

It’s not just the scholarships or the participation numbers, of course. It’s the expense.

The wrestling community, among others, has taken notice. A few years ago, advocates blamed Title IX for the long list of defunct wrestling programs. That attitude declined when Ohio University professor David Ridpath -- a wrestler and coach in his own right -- stunned the wrestling community with a presentation called “Why Wrestling Coaches are Wrong” at a celebration of Title IX in 2007.

The problem isn’t Title IX, Ridpath says. It’s out-of-control spending on men’s sports.

“Dropping sports is a choice,” Ridpath said on the Short Time Wrestling Podcast. “It is not a mandate. No wrestling team has ever had to be dropped. It is a convenient excuse so we can go ahead and add on a director of high school relations to a football program or hire a 10th football coach or have our football team stay in a hotel the night of a home game.”

Wrestling advocates are starting to see that women’s sports advocates like Donna Lopiano, who succeeded Ridpath as head of a reform coalition called The Drake Group, are trying to save sports, not cut wrestling. Schools can cut their budgets without cutting entire sports.

“This is the perfect time to address excess and fat,” Ridpath said.

The fattest part of an athletics department is, again, football. Median spending for football teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision (once called Division I-A) has gone up from $7 million in 2005 to $18.9 milion in 2018. The median in the Football Championship Subdivision (the other Division I schools with football) rose from $1.77 million in 2005 to $3.85 million in 2018.

For comparison’s sake, consider soccer spending. In the 48 schools that made the 2019 Division I men’s soccer tournament, the median spending on those teams in 2018 was $1.15 million. The median on the women’s teams was $1.3 million.

But doesn’t football revenue pay for everything?

At the “Power Five” conferences, in which schools often report an eight-figure net gain from the gridiron, sure. Elsewhere, not really.

Little wonder so few schools -- 29, by the NCAA’s count -- are breaking even in sports. Those numbers meet with some skepticism, but if everyone’s finances were in good shape, schools wouldn’t be relying on subsidies.

Again excluding the Power Five, those subsidies aren’t small. Institutional support and student fees carry much of the burden -- and those are likely to be cut as students sit out during Covid-19 or press their schools to lower those fees. These fees may run into the four figures per student, according to an NBC database that lets readers search for their schools. Worse, the Drake Group found these numbers are often higher than advertised.

The argument that football and other sports fill seats in potentially underenrolled colleges and provide opportunities for people who otherwise might not attend college don’t hold water. The big football schools spen/d hundreds of thousands of dollars per student-athlete each year, money that could easily go toward more need-based aid or even a scholarship program for disadvantaged communities. An oft-cited study from 2010 found FBS schools were spending six times as much on each student-athlete (median: $92,000) than they were on non-athletes. Other Division I schools spend three times as much on athletes.

In other words: Students who don’t play sports are a lot better for a college’s bottom line than students who do.

The solutions are out there. Football can still fill its financial and cultural roles on campus without 85 full scholarships, 11 coaches, three full-time recruiters, four strength coaches who don’t work with other sports, three academic support employees and five “quality control specialists.” (That’s the staff at Louisville, which had a nice run with Lamar Jackson at quarterback but will never be confused with Alabama.)

And the Title IX burden, in terms of numbers of athletes, isn’t as great as it appears. In my analysis (all available online) of 43 Division I colleges, at least half could meet their obligations by adding women’s field hockey, lacrosse and/or rowing.

At some point, colleges might want to consider reviving junior varsity programs. Why scour the campus for women who might be able to row when dozens of women would happily jump onto a JV soccer team?

So far, soccer has been spared the brunt of the cuts. Excluding colleges that are closing, three junior colleges and one NCAA Division II school are cutting their men’s and women’s programs, while Division II St. Edward’s, Division I Cincinnati and Division I Appalachian State are getting rid of their men’s programs.

That count is sure to rise over the next year. But it doesn’t have to. Colleges can be held accountable for their spending -- and their cuts.

12 comments about "Title IX compliance: Keep existing sports, add more for women, cut football spending".
  1. Chris Lemley, July 13, 2020 at 9:24 p.m.

    Good analysis. And what about the excess expenses that many soccer programs have to bear because they compete in a conference requiring expensive travel that was chosen for football or basketball reasons?

  2. Kent James replied, July 15, 2020 at 11:03 p.m.

    Excellent point.  WVU moved from the Big East to the Big 12 in 2012, and it wasn't for soccer.  The closest opponent is Iowa State, 741 miles away.  WVU has had some excellent women's teams (and some solid men's teams) but I'm sure that schedule doesn't help recruiting...

  3. Bob Ashpole, July 15, 2020 at 11:23 a.m.

    I checked Michigan's schools. Yikes, 49 out of 59 did not comply with Title IX.

  4. Michael Taddonio, July 15, 2020 at 11:45 a.m.

           I am convinced that the colleges spend a lot of money on football because it brings in revenue, donations from people, and brings in so much attention. It also brings in more students, so colleges and universities say.  Siri Mullinix, a former goalie with the USA women's soccer, wrote a letter to "Soccer America."  She stated that rosters of college football teams be limited to 70 players. The money that would be saved from the lesser amount of football scholarships would be used for scholarships for other sports. such as soccer. She stated that many of the football scholarship players never get to play a down. Of course, the NCAA has limits as to how many scholarships can be given in each sport. That is something that would have to be changed. Mullinix has a very valid point. Also, football and basketball coaches' salaries are grossly inflated.   That is something that would also have to be changed. So many of these schools want a well-known person as a football or basketball coach. Florida International University wanted to drop men's soccer a number of years ago. It changed its mind after an overwhelming public outcry. The school added football as a sport. This necessitated a change in schedule for both men's and women's soccer teams, something which I find as not a good thing. Perhaps a public outcry such as happened at FIU or more financial support in terms of donations to the amount of money available for soccer scholarships would help. 

  5. Ben Myers, July 15, 2020 at 12:32 p.m.

    Covid-19 has revealed what a house of cards college football and basketball are.  These are the two that draw the most interest from TV and all other media, especially the major events like the bowl games and March Madness.  These sports will not go down without a fight, aided by the media who have skin in the game.  With fewer marquee college sports events, what will be available to feed the public hunger for sports events and to feed media coffers with ad revenue?

    It is almost beyond ironic that college football and basketball serve as uncompensated minor leagues for the pro sports, with one-and-done hoop players putting the lie to the concept of "student-athlete".   Well, the schools get something out of the deal when their players, not necessarily alumni, make it big as pros.  But you can't bank the positive publicity.

    We are in overtime for change here.

  6. Daniel Fitzgerald, July 15, 2020 at 12:54 p.m.

    I played Div 2 soccer in college.  During my master's degree time, I worked at East Carolina Univ as an athletic trainer.  ECU has already cut their men's soccer program and this year they just cut Men and Women's Tennis and Swimming/Diving.  If you look at how much money they pour into basketball and football (both haven't been good/successful over the years), it would eye opening.  And don't forget to mention the medical staff that focuses on football alone.  Hopefully more universities will look into this as we are indeed overdue for change.

  7. Ric Fonseca replied, July 15, 2020 at 4:07 p.m.

    Folks, Dure's article above is one of many others and I must say that it is long in coming.  Believe me when I tell you that his is not the last and most certainly there are hundreds if not thousands of similar beliefs.  I've "been there and done that," at virtually all levels of intercollegiate competition, from community college, (Calif) State Universities and the UC system as well as the NAIA.  And yes football and basketball are multi-million dollar generating sports, that to some degree also help keep other "non revenue generating sports" afloat, however if some blame is to be placed it should be directed at the archaic and pollyannish NCAA, NAIA, NJCAA, and other similar national collegiate sport controlling organizations. I could regale you with a lot of stories, going back to the mid '60s of ADs and "major sports" coaches that literally and figuratively speaking spoke out against the implementation of our sport and then literally blanched and were aghast when Title IX was impelemented during the decade of the '70's, but the author does hit the nail with a sledge hammer.  What is more than appalling are the salaries many football coaches receive, as well as basketball coaches, and then again the number of football players are permitted to be rostered, the one-and-done basketball players and the number of staff they carry.
    The arrival of Title IX was most certainly not welcome for various and sundry-many reasons, yet suffice it to say that a four year university where I coached for four years, the PE/Athletic administrators came out and outright told me the parameters I was to follow, vis-a-vis playing field and the piddling budget - mind you then that university did not have a football team, though the PE chair was a former FB coach, and the AD a baseball coach as were other former football coaches that had transitioned from the FB field to an actual tenure-track position as PE instructors or coaches of other "lesser sports."  That I'd gotten the head coaching position, it was thanks to other coaches of other uniersities that'd recommended me, and thanks to my full-time teaching position at a nearby community college, that helped me and my family immensly.  I AM proud to say, howeer, that several years later, just about the time Title IX was being implemented, that I helped and supported the formation of a women's soccer club, playing during the winter/spring, and whose team now (I believe) plays DI NCAA and has been rather respectful.  I could - but rather not at this time - continue, but this ought to serve to aprk others to write about the topic, and that is for the survival of our sport, at the rec/competitive, scholastic, and collegiate/university levels. as well as the amateur leagues.  Change is inevitable and change is constant!!!

  8. Kent James, July 15, 2020 at 11:15 p.m.

    85 scholarships for a sport where 11 play at a time?  That's absurd. It reflects the political power of football, not the needs of the game.  Could anyone really tell a difference in the quality of the game on the field if there were only 70 scholarships?


    While a football scholarship may be a ticket out of poverty for some people, you could take some of the money from the football scholarships and put it towards academic scholarships for kids from impoverished communities.  


    I also like the idea of JV teams rather than begging kids to play new sports.  Participation is the goal, and a JV team uses existing facilities very efficiently.


    Beau is exactly right; the problem is not impossible to solve, in fact it's quite simple, if there's the will to do it.

  9. James Madison, July 15, 2020 at 11:59 p.m.

    Colleges and universities can have functioning sports programs without American football.  Witness University of California at Santa Barbara, which is a soccer power,.

  10. Sean Guillory, July 16, 2020 at 7:35 a.m.

    You guys all miss the point.  If it was not for college football and to an extent basketball these schools would not even have money to even offer women's sports or these other sports that are an expense.  Ok sure football is costly but guess what the amount of cash flow they bring into a school is immense and I'm pretty sure none of the other sports even break even.  As much as I love soccer, In This country American football rules and that's a cultural thing.  I personally love Saturdays watching it on tv and Hioenit continues.

  11. Bob Ashpole replied, July 16, 2020 at 10:38 a.m.

    Sean, that argument is a valid one for the top schools in the best leagues playing televised games. It isn't true for the majority of schools. Michigan is going to fill its football stadium regardless of their standings or the number of scholarships. So the variable is TV broadcasts.

  12. Beau Dure replied, July 16, 2020 at 12:15 p.m.

    Sean -- That's addressed above. 

    At the "Power Five" sports, yes, football subsidizes other sports. In most other schools, football loses money. 

    You can see more detail in the "all available online" link above.

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