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Are Colleges Gaming Title IX Compliance?

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Today's New York Times reports that college athletic departments often use deception to comply with Title IX. "Many are padding women's team rosters with underqualified, even unwitting, athletes. They are counting male practice players as women. And they are trimming the rosters of men's teams," wrote Katie Thomas, with reporting help from three additional Times staffers.

All of these things fall under the heading of roster management, a concept AB first covered in In between, then-Wisconsin head football coach Barry Alvarez (the school's current athletic director) drew AB's attention when he defended the number of walk-ons on his roster, which at the time was decimated by suspensions relating to a student-athlete extra-benefits scandal.

But the Times article nonetheless alerted us to the lengths to which schools are currently willing to go to comply with Title IX. For example, 21 University of South Florida women competed in cross-country in 2001. By 2008, after the school had launched its football program, the number of women's cross-country athletes had grown to 75 - more than four times the size of an average Division I cross-country team. As recently as the 2009-10 academic year, South Florida reported 71 women on its cross-country team, yet 43 of those women never ran in competition.

Running is an activity that allows the same athlete to be counted up to three times - as a member of the cross-country and indoor and outdoor track teams - even if their membership amounts to a mere open invitation to condition in the off-season of their primary sport. Walk-ons have been used to pad the rosters of women's tennis programs and to provide practice opponents for the scholarship athletes. According to the Times, the Office for Civil Rights, which enforces Title IX, "does not require athletes to compete to be counted. Still, some have questioned why elite Division I programs are opening rosters to underqualified athletes."

Then there's the case of Sarah Till, a 2009 graduate of South Florida, who says she quit the track team and forfeited her scholarship during her sophomore year, but still found herself listed on the rosters of all three of the school's running teams the following season.

Russlynn Ali, the assistant education secretary who heads the OCR, told the Times that it was fair to count athletes multiple times, but that "if they didn't know they were on the team, in all likelihood we would determine that not to be a meaningful participation opportunity."

Another practice revealed in the article involves male athletes who practice with women's teams being counted as female participants, a tactic that has become routine in Division I and one that the Department of Education allows. (Using men as practice participants for women's teams is something the NCAA has considered banning in the recent past.) Division I women's basketball champion Texas A&M reported 32 players in the 2009-10 academic year, although 14 were men.

Apparently the roster gender bending doesn't go both ways, however. According to the Times, Cornell included 19 men among the women's fencing, volleyball and basketball teams in its 2009-10 numbers. Yet Cornell counted the five female coxswains for the men's rowing team as female athletes.

Ali told the Times that universities investigated by her office would never get away with counting men as women, but acknowledged that a formal inquiry is rare, adding, "I would hope, as someone who cares about these issues, that that data is accurate and that institutions would not try and game it."

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