When the Quinnipiac litigation last year exposed certain instances of roster manipulation -- adding male players and cutting female player after the reporting deadline -- I kept hearing people ask "how common is this?" My gut was that Quinnipiac was not the only school to engage in roster shenanigans that make their women's teams appear larger and their men's teams smaller, in efforts to create the illusion of compliance with the proportionality prong of Title IX. But I didn't know which other schools were doing it nor the extent of the problem.
After reading today's groundbreaking story in the New York Times, I now know, cheating is far more prevalent and even more egregious than the Quinnipiac example. The University of South Florida, for example, included many athletes from other sports on its 71-member women's cross-country team roster-- athletes who never competed in meets, practiced, or some case even knew that they were listed as members of the team. Other schools invite walk-on women to "join" the team, but tell them not to bother showing up to games and practices even though they are listed on the roster. Still others -- including the national champions Texas A&M women's basketball team -- count the women's team's male practice players as opportunities in women's sports. All of these examples are meant to create the illusion, on paper, of gender equity.
Title IX requires that universities offer a balance of athletic opportunities that reflects the percentage of men and women in the student body, or alternatively, to at least offer enough athletic opportunities to meet the interests and abilities of the underrepresented sex. Title IX will also give credit for trying, as another compliance option is to show continuing progress of expanding opportunities for the underrepresented sex. But rather than putting in the real effort to show continuing progress, or to ensure that there is no unmet interest, universities are manipulating the data to give the appearance of compliance under the first prong. And lest anyone be concerned that these are "innocent" universities "forced" into this situation because they can't afford to add real opportunities for women, let's consider whether this same ostensible financial hardship applies when it comes to adding men's sports. Apparently, it does not. According to the article, South Florida's egregious roster manipulation was a response to its decision in 1997 to add 100 new opportunities for men, in the sport of football. Rather than investing in a leveling-up approach, South Florida took an existing imbalance and made it worse by adding opportunities -- expensive ones -- for the overrepresented sex. So of course there's less money now to add opportunities for women. But that's never a justification cheating, and it rings particular hollow when the university's own decisions to create or exacerbate the disparity is at the root of its compliance problem.
In sum, the NYT is the bearer of bad news when it exposes the extent and scope of universities' false reports of gender equity. I wish that we could believe universities who report gender equity in athletics. But at least the good news is that after this public exposure, investigators, complainants, plaintiffs, bloggers, and other watchdogs are less likely to be duped by false numbers going forward. We'll dig below the surface of universities' reported data and demand stronger evidence in support of universities' claims to gender equity. When they realize that their false numbers will not protect them, maybe they'll start reporting the real ones.