GRIZ GRIT: Circumventing Title IX

By Beacon Staff

For nearly every piece of collegiate sports legislation, there are those who attempt to circumvent it.

That is the case with what we know as Title IX, which in 1972 established that there be no sex discrimination in any federally financed education program.

Some 40 years later, institutions continue to struggle with the balance between the high-revenue (such as football and, in some cases, basketball) programs and money losing programs. The number of women afforded collegiate sports opportunities has skyrocketed, increasing more than 500 percent to about 186,000 student athletes.

But according to a recent New York Times investigation of public records of some 20 colleges and universities and a further analysis of statistics from all 345 Division I institutions, there are plenty of examples of athletic programs skewing the figures to reach compliance.

Does that surprise or anger you?

In order to balance the burgeoning number of football participants – increasing by some 20 percent alone since 2009-2010, according to the Times report – rather than add additional women’s sports, which can be quite costly, schools have begun increasing the size of the rosters of women’s teams.

In some documented cases, these players who are added to, say, track rosters don’t travel or compete at meets. In some cases they don’t even know they are listed as team members.

Such “roster engineering” is at once disheartening and probably illegal. It is cheating in the worst form – as it is used to give the appearance of Title IX compliance while failing to provide equal opportunity with the addition of sports.

Title IX decrees that the number of women’s sports opportunities must be in proportion to the student enrollment, which now shows female numbers well over 55 percent. Or a school must show they are making an effort to reach that proportion.

And schools like the University of Montana always have struggled to reach that level. In fact, recently the school announced its desire to add women’s softball for that purpose.

In my mind, the most glaring violation is that some schools count male practice players as women.

Now many teams, maybe starting with Pat Summit at the University of Tennessee, use men as practice players to give their squads a more physical and athletic practice.

It’s that old case of using an ankle weight to work out. It makes you pretty light on your feet once it’s removed and you return to normal.

But when questioned about male practice players being counted as women, a representative of the Office of Postsecondary Education told the Times that if the men receive coaching instruction and practice with women they are to be counted as women.

That is completely absurd and simply a way to circumvent the rule, thus denying female participation on an equal level. But then again, it is all about money, and the increased cost of adding sports to reach compliance is an expensive proposition.

In Missoula, for example, to balance the books to pay for the addition of softball, the student fee will need to be substantially increased. It will be a tough sell, even though Montana students pay the lowest fee in the Big Sky Conference.

Maybe an incremental increase over the last 10 years would have made more sense. But never the less I’d sure rather see a school be transparent about its intentions than skew the process by finding what, to this point, is an unfilled loophole.

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