Sidelining Female Athletes


By: Meghan O’Reilly

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A closer look at the inequality that still plagues female athletes across the country

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Playing a collegiate sport in the NCAA is an honor that just about 460,000 student-athletes receive a year. Male and female athletes push their bodies to the limit, they chase their dreams all while trying to get a college education. We thought that when Title IX was enacted 40 years ago, there would be no need to worry about equality in women’s collegiate athletics again…until we looked at the rosters. The term “roster management” has become a curse word in some athletic department offices according to Tommy Bell, the athletic director at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne. From triple counting athletes, to counting athletes and then cutting them a few weeks later to counting male practice players as females, there have been major ethical issues in athletic departments across the country. This has come to have damaging effects of female athletes who are simply trying to pursue their sport at the highest level. The fact that money is still being allocated unequally and rosters are being fudged is having damaging effects on young women’s development and holds them back from pursing their sport at the highest level (for most of the 24 NCAA sports).

In 1972, Title IX was passed to ensure sex discrimination in any federally financed educational program would be illegal. This meant that over the next 40 years, women’s collegiate sports would grow by more than 500%. This took the number of female collegiate athletes from 30,000 to 186,000. Women now comprise 57% of college goers in the United States. Although the number of women skyrocketed during this time for athletics and in education, they are still being sidelined by inequitable gender discrimination. From funding to respect, female athletes are struggling to come close to breaking even with male athletes. This glass ceiling effect that is plaguing women’s athletics especially at the collegiate level needs to come to an end. Not only does it seem to be violating Title IX but it is damaging to women who are trying to pursue their passion at the highest level of their sport.

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Although the gap has narrowed, male athletes still receive 55% of NCAA college athletic scholarship dollars (Divisions I and II), leaving only 45% allocated to women. (NCAA, 2014) This stat seems to violate the core of Title IX legislation by improperly allocating university funds based on gender. Especially in public universities, I have a hard time believing it is just to not divide scholarship funds exactly even between male and female athletes. It has been estimated that men receive $133 million more per year than women do in athletic scholarships (National Coalition for Women and Girls in Education 2005). I understand that the counter argument is that women sports do not bring in enough revenue. Therefore, bigger sports, such as football and men’s basketball receive more funding and scholarship dollars. I still think that this goes against Title IX to the core. With fewer funds, it is nearly impossible to encourage women’s programs to compete and to be at the same level. I see this scenario similar to a young child trying to learn. If one child is given all of the resources; books, a tutor, extra practice, more attention and the other child received just a large pile of books and minimal attention… I would make a knowledgeable assumption that child would have more of a chance to be successful in the long run. Would you agree?

I was fascinated with the inequality of scholarship funding so I continued to investigate. After further research I learned that in NCAA Division I institutions, women’s teams receive only 40% of college sport operating dollars and 36% of college athletic team. University athletic departments would not exist without this funding and therefore have had to go to drastic measures in order to ensure they meet these quotas…no matter what. Ethical? I think not, this has lead to a lot of deception in athletic departments across the country.

Forged rosters to disguising practice players of the opposite sex, there sure a lot of loopholes. Duke women’s basketball has been known to use the exception of having male practice players on their women’s teams to keep the numbers fair in regards to female participants. “We count who we’re supposed to count,” said J. Andrew Noel Jr., Cornell’s athletic director who also has been counting male practice players as part of the women’s team. There is no official rule that states they cannot do as such. I wonder how those male practice players feel about that one? Female athletes have also been added to rosters of teams they are not even on in order to make sure they are avoiding any attention from the Department of Education every year. The University of South Florida recently had 71 girls on their cross country roster. I’m not sure if you’ve ever been to a cross country race, but only the top 7 actually line up for the race! Having 71 runners seems to be incredibly absurd even for the most talented running programs. The roster falsifying was recently traced back to 1977. The year the university introduced football. According to Title IX, universities must demonstrate compliance with Title IX in at least one of three ways: by showing that the number of female athletes is in proportion to overall female enrollment, by demonstrating a history of expanding opportunities for women, or by proving that they are meeting the athletic interests and abilities of their female students. The University of South Florida was investigated and they discovered that only 28 women raced in AT LEAST one race that season. What will come next from universities in order to continue to try to avoid Title IX investigation?

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Title IX has caused a decrease in opportunities for male athletes, and Title IX is to blame for program and scholarship cuts. So even if we think that cutting back on male teams is effective, it is still causing many college athletes to have their lives and dreams uprooted. These harsh moves are often because universities want to push a more popular male sport, such as football, and therefore need to make cuts to balance it out. Since Title IX’s inception, there has been an unfortunate loss of men’s teams, but supporters of Title IX state the losses have been offset by the number of men playing other sports (Hammer 2003). Temple University was among one of the more recent schools to have to cut many of their men’s programs. The university wanted to push for a higher quality football team and therefore forfeited Men’s track and field (both indoor and outdoor), baseball, crew, men’s gymnastics. They also had to cut softball and rowing from the women’s sports. This reduced their numbers from 24 NCAA teams to 17. When asked how they made this harsh decision that would cut 150 athletes and put 9 coaches out of a job they stated; “This was an exhaustive process that looked at each of our Olympic sport programs. For the seven sports that are being eliminated, unavailability of appropriate facilities—and the lack of suitable alternatives—were major factors. For the five men’s sports, the need to address Title IX spending imbalances also played a part in these decisions” Most of those 150 students were male athletes (approximately 2/3). I don’t believe that this is the way to comply with Title IX. It just doesn’t seem fair that athletic departments are going to such extremes. They’re either cutting entire teams or forging rosters mostly so they can make more on the money sports (men’s basketball and football). We need to stop ignoring what has been happening for the past 44 years and do something about the injustice college athletes are experiencing. It may appear that everything is right and just but it simply is not and we should not sit back and pretend that Title IX battles are not being fought everyday all over the nation.

This brings to the attention the idea of framing as discussed by Andrew C. Billings & James R. Angelini. They argue in their article about the 2004 Olympic coverage that the media plays a huge enough role to completely skew their viewer’s opinions and ideas of the games. In other words, “it’s not sports, it’s story telling”. Framing is defined as “selecting certain aspects to shape the way an audience thinks about a something”. I think this goes along with many of the athletic departments across the country who are choosing to make it look like they are complying with Title IX legislation, yet really they are going to absurd measures in order to avoid getting caught for breaking the rules. They are aware that everyday people are not going to go into their records and question the fact that they have far too many female athletes registered and they also know that every university across the country has to send in their numbers at the end of the year. Although their cross country roster may say that they have 71 healthy runners running for them, they really only have 28 and have been double or triple counting these girls so they can keep numbers high for the male sports teams. They have males practicing with their female athletes, yet, they still count them as females in their reports. Women work equally as hard in the classroom and on the field, yet, they do not receive the same compensation with scholarships and in operating dollars. Ethical? I think not.

For many women, college athletics are the end of the line. There are only a few professional women’s leagues that pay enough for someone to make a living. For these women athletes, sports help to better develop them after they leave the field. New research suggests that sports at this high level have driven women to be more independent and help them to define their own form of individual success. It has helped to mold their minds and help them set higher expectations for themselves than ever before. This can all be accredited to the Title IX legislation that has opened doors for female athletes all across the country. One study states that college athletics, “physically and mentally stronger, and promoting emotional development.” It is detrimental to society that if we want to continue to build strong, successful women that we continue to nourish this kind of thinking. Nancy Hogshead-Makar, an Olympic swimmer and the senior director of advocacy at the Women’s Sports Foundation, said, “the fraud is disheartening. Intercollegiate athletics are rare educational opportunities, subsidized with our tax dollars, which deliver superior lifelong returns on investment. When an athletic department engineers itself to produce only the appearance of fairness, they flout the law and cheat women.” This is bigger than just running up and down a field kicking a ball or running around in circles, it’s about empowering women to be their best self and to refuse to settle for anything but the best. We cannot hide from the fact that these rules are being broken everyday, we must stand up and acknowledge the wrongdoings and try to fix them for future generations.

In conclusion, I believe that women’s identity has been formed and shaped based on the unequal treatment given in sports. It has damaging effects on their identity and their future goals and inhibits them from becoming their best version of themselves if they are not given equal treatment. I believe we have made huge strides since the inception of Title IX but we are still leaps and bounds away from where we need to be in order for women to see equal funding and to have proper representation in collegiate and professional sports. We cannot stand on the sidelines and ignore what is going on in athletic departments across the country. We must put an end to the roster forging, the cutting of teams for revenue purposes and the framing that has taken place to skew people’s vision into thinking Title IX battles are no longer being fought. Together we can empower women for generations to come but it all starts with giving them the respect and  equality they deserve.


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