Tuesday, January 03, 2012

How Diverse Are Women's College Sports?

Recently, the NCAA published the most recent school-year's participation data, which includes breakdowns by sex, race, sport, division, and conference. Because this data set goes back to the 1999-2000 school year, I decided to use it to look for trends in racial diversity in women's college athletics over the last decade. Several hours and few Excel spreadsheets later, I have the some questions and answers to report.

My first question was whether athletic opportunities for women in general increased during the time period in question.
  • The answer, not surprisingly, is yes. Athletic opportunities for women at NCAA member institutions has increased by 31% -- from 147,683 in 1999-2000 to 193,207 in 2010-2011.
  • Half of that overall increase is due to gains in three women's sports: indoor track, outdoor track, and soccer.
  • Participation rates within most other women's sports increased as well. In addition to two emerging sports that were discontinued during the time frame in question -- archery and badminton -- only fencing, rifle, skiing, and synchronized swimming showed declining participation rates. All other sports gained some.

Next, I wondered whether opportunities for female athletes of color have increased during this time period as well.

  • Again, the answer is yes. Opportunities for women of all minority races (Black, Asian/Pacific Islander, Hispanic/Latina) increased by percentages higher than the mean 31%. For instance, opportunities for Black female athletes increased from 14,001 to 21,615, or 54%. In comparison, opportunities for white female athletes increased from 117,244 to 144,598, or 23%.
  • However, these gains for female athletes of color were not enough to significantly change the overall racial distribution of female athletic opportunities. In 1999-2000, 79% of female athletic opportunities went to white athletes, compared to 75% last year -- a change of only four percentage points. Meanwhile, the percentage of female athletic opportunities that went to Black women rose from 9 to 11 percent.

I then wondered whether the present distribution of female athletic opportunities by race is proportionate to racial demographics of the undergraduate population.

  • The best data I could find suggests that about 8% of female college undergraduates are black (13.5% of college students are black; 59.3% of black college students are female).
  • A total of 14,001 athletic opportunities received by Black women constitutes 11% of women's athletic opportunities, so Black women are not underrepresented in the distribution of women's athletic opportunities.
  • Yet when you take into account the general underrepresentation of women in college athletics, the percentage of athletic opportunities for Black women is disproportionately low, since a total of 14,001 athletic opportunities received by black women constitutes only 3% of all athletic opportunities.
Last, I wondered if racial diversity within particular sports has changed over time.
  • In 1999-2000, there were 14,001 athletic opportunities for black female athletes. 25% of these opportunities were in outdoor track, 21% in indoor track, and 23% in basketball. This not surprising, as reporters, scholars, and advocates have noted for years about this manner of racial segregation within athletics.
  • Unfortunately, though participation rates are rising in almost every sport, including two new emerging sports that have been added in the last ten years -- bowling and rugby -- opportunities for black female athletes are still concentrated in track and basketball in percentages nearly identical to those ten years ago.
  • Other minority races, though receiving fewer athletic opportunities than black women, were more evenly distributed throughout various sports. Latina/Hispanic women have 7747 athletic opportunities -- 17% in soccer, 14% in softball, 10% in track. Asian women have 3999 athletic opportunities -- 12% in soccer, 11% in tennis, and 10% in track. Finally, just 716 Native American/Alaska Native women have athletic opportunities at NCAA institutions, 18% of these are in softball, followed by 13 and 12% in outdoor and indoor track, respectively.
In sum, this year's NCAA participation data suggest there's been no drastic change in the diversity of women's college sports over the last ten years. Thanks to Title IX, opportunities for women to participate in college athletics continue to increase and close the gap between participation rates for women and men. Yet even though these increases produce opportunities for Black women that are proportion to their demographic rates on campus, their opportunities still remain clustered in track and basketball. With only two sports accounting for most athletic opportunities for Black women, questions must be raised about the accessibility of other sports to athletes of color.