By David Allen
On March 11, 2014 a complaint was filed against Denison University in adherence to Title IX for “unequal representation between male and female athletes.”
I firmly believe that this investigation, and others like it, need to have further mediation before resources are spent.
Title IX is a viable centerpiece to NCAA legislation. It has radically changed the atmosphere surrounding athletics and been an incredible resolution to male and female inequality in college sports.
The official statement of Title IX is: “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.”
With this statute, the NCAA and the Department of Education (DOE) have been able to effectively promote female and male athletics equally, creating a new era of sports.
But progress still has a ways to go.
“The gap between men’s and women’s participation in Division I has closed, but not so in Divisions II and III,” said Associate Director of Public and Media Relations Gail Dent, via e-mail. In comes the allegation against Denison that unequal opportunities exist for the females in DU sports. From the March 11 issue of The Denisonian, the statement reads, “[Denison] is not providing equal opportunities for female college students to play sports,” due to a “gender gap.”
Does the fact that there are fewer female athletes actually say that the college is being unfair in its athletics, and is Denison’s athletic department, for the lack of a better word, sexist? Not likely.
“We sponsor 12 women’s varsity programs and 11 men’s varsity programs,” says Nan Carney-Debord, director of athletics at DU. “Looking at the 2012-2013 athletics budgets, on a per capita basis, the amount of money the college spent on each female athlete was actually higher than what it spent per male athlete.”
That doesn’t sound like an administration that contributes to a “gender gap.”
And yet, the female-to-male athletic participation disparity is not uncommon, nor is it unfair. Male athletes make up 56.6 percent of the total student-athletes in the NCAA, which almost mirrors the 57.7 percent male majority in athletics at DU.
“Each year, it is the case that we offer more opportunities for women than we have participants, and there are always additional spaces available for women to participate in varsity programs,” added Carney-DeBord. “The number of women participating in athletics is not limited by what we offer.” So why are there fewer female participants at Denison? First, there are more women than men in Greek life, and there are around 600 leadership positions a student can hold in various organizations on campus. That’s about 25 percent of the student population.
Also, many athletes participate in college athletics because they have shown outstanding leadership qualities. Doesn’t it stand to reason that leaders on the field would also want to be leaders in their school or clubs, possibly in the field of their career interest?
“On a campus like Denison’s, with so many opportunities to get involved, it is a reasonable assumption that women’s participation in athletics is mitigated by their increased interest and participation in activities outside of athletics,” Carney-DeBord said. “The college has seen increased participation by women in student organizations, community service, the performing arts and in other areas where they clearly outnumber the men.”
The complaint states that, if there were ‘proportional equality,’“an additional 84, 94 and 90 women respectively…would have been able to play intercollegiate sports,” for the years of 2011, 2012 and 2013.
That the complaint is based on these statistics alone is ludicrous when paired with knowledge about collegiate athletic culture in general.
For instance, Denison currently has more than 80 athletes on its football team, more than double any other female athletic program.
Also, men’s lacrosse (44 men) has a different substituting scheme in their game, allowing for more people to notch playing time-thus more people to be on the team than the women’s team (24 women).
This case has an even rockier foundation when compared to neighboring schools like Kenyon, which also has more female students than male students but fewer female athletes, and is not currently being investigated.
So, why Denison? “We have come to understand the party likely responsible for filing this particular complaint is based on the Pacific coast, with no link to Denison, and makes a regular practice of filing these claims against multiple schools without ever approaching them about their practices. We did not even receive a copy of the complaint or the name of the person filing it from the Office of Civil Rights (OCR), and no one contacted us with any complaints before it was filed,” Carney-DeBord said.
Rather than trying to figure out the culture behind the misleading statistics, this individual immediately tried to blame the institution.
And while the individual who filed the complaint should come under scrutiny, so should the organizations which took his allegations seriously and issued a press release along with notifying major news organizations and potential future student athletes.
“The U.S. Department of Education is required to pursue every Title IX complaint that is filed with its OCR, regardless of merit. The OCR makes it clear that looking into this in no way presupposes the viability of the claims,” Carney-DeBord said. “It’s important for the OCR to respond to these complaints, and we look forward to cooperating with them.”
The DOE is required to investigate every single complaint, even by individuals with no affiliation to the college or NCAA athletics.
If you want to know just how easy it is to file a ‘complaint’ to the Department of Education, all it takes is a 2-minute Google search of “DOE complaint,” and then pressing “file a complaint.” In reality, all that needs to happen for the DOE to launch a hard-line investigation is a basic knowledge of the Internet. This system seems broken, even archaic.
What about the effect that an investigation like this has on potential athletic recruits and the effect that this has on the day-to-day operations of the sports department? Denison is not being convicted, but an investigation like this could cause hesitation in potential student-athletes.
Title IX will always be an immensely important tenet in all facets of collegiate athletics, but complaints like these, and a complaint system like this, do not do the well-behaved good. It encourages an artificial ‘checkmark’ of the guidelines for female participation. Even a college official has admitted that they know of another college doubling the number of athletes on certain women’s teams, decreasing the overall playing time for the entire team, to bypass the ‘quota’.
Therein lies the problem: there should not be quotas to fill; there should only be opportunities, which DU has.
Participation is a different question that needs different answers. And yet, this is not even a problem with Title IX or its legislation, as even one of the facets of the “three-part-test” that is used to analyze gender fairness of an administration is that it “meet[s] the interests and abilities of its female students even where there are disproportionately fewer females than males participating in sports.” This is a problem within the system, within the individual who filed the complaint.
This is an open letter to those parties: if you’re looking to rid the gender gap in college athletics, find out why the athletes aren’t playing rather than trying to blame an institution for gender inequality.