USF defends gender-equity practices after NYT story
After being featured prominently in a New York Times story on college athletic programs "relying on deception" to meet Title IX standards, USF officials said Tuesday that they have changed how they count female track athletes for gender-equity purposes, but that they remain among the most balanced schools in the state and Big East conference even after those changes.
"You can take all those (questionable) numbers away, and we're still in conformity (with Title IX)," executive athletic director Bill McGillis said. "If your premise is that we are including kids on the cross-country roster who are not participating in cross-country in order to comply with the proportionality piece of Title IX, that would be false."
When comparing the percentage of female athletes compared to the general undergraduate student body, USF's athletes are within 1 percent of the general student body -- the university is 56.69 percent female, USF said, while 55.91 percent of its athletes from 2009-10 are female. That differential of minus-0.78 percent is the second-best of the seven Division I-A football schools in Florida (only Miami is higher) and ranks fourth among the eight Big East football schools, and ahead of Notre Dame, Villanova and Georgetown, which also participate in college football.
The Times story questioned how USF had listed itself as having 71 athletes in women's cross-country last season, when only 28 competed in at least one race, suggesting that the numbers were artificially high to help with Title IX compliance. The NCAA has three separate track seasons -- cross-county, indoor and outdoor track -- allowing schools to report a single athlete as counting as three for gender-equity purposes. McGillis said Tuesday that USF had 22 athletes who were listed as being part of the cross-country team that shouldn't have been -- all track athletes eligible for cross-country were included as such, whether they had participated or not.
"I think there's a better way, and going forward, we're only going to include those who fully intend to participate in cross-country," McGillis said. "There was no ill intent. ... In hindsight, I'm not sure we should have included them."
The Times story identified a USF student who had left the program and was still listed on the roster a year later, told by a former USF assistant coach that if she did so, she could receive "running shoes and priority class registration as a reward." McGillis said if that statement is correct, his reaction would be "disappointing."
USF declined to make track coach Warren Bye, who oversees all of USF's men's and women's track and cross-country programs, available for questions, with McGillis handling all questions for the athletic department.
Title IX was created in 1972 to ensure a level playing field for male and female athletes in any federally funded education program, and colleges across the country face a challenge in complying with that when they field football teams, which add roughly 100 male athletes that must be offset by a comparable number of female athletes.
USF, like most schools, does so by limiting the roster size of its men's sports while encouraging higher levels of participation in women's sports. The practice of "roster management" is common at football schools -- for instance, West Virginia's gender-equity data for 2009 shows 74 athletes on its women's rowing team, even though the roster on the school's official site shows only 26 on the team; Louisville reported 67 on its women's rowing team, with Connecticut at 61 and Rutgers at 51, all with much less showing on their online rosters.
The women's track program is USF's primary means of offsetting the football participation for gender-equity purposes. The larger roster doesn't translate to any greater success in cross-country, where only a team's fastest five runners count toward a team score in a meet. USF's women's cross-country team, with 57 runners listed on its 2009 roster, finished 12th in the Big East; the Bulls' men's cross-country team, with nine runners on roster, finished 13th. McGillis stressed that athletes can benefit from the experience of being on a team even if they don't contribute directly to the team's success in competition.
"Not only are we in substantial conformity with ... the letter of the legislation, we are committed to the spirit of it," McGillis said. "We're always examining our roster management numbers and the experiences of our student-athletes. Without question, we're going to closely monitor those numbers and our adherence to Title IX and gender equity. The student-athletes, female and male, the vast, vast majority are having a meaningful experience here."