The math is straightforward, but most of America's largest public universities fail to give their female students the opportunities required under Title IX.
When Title IX passed in 1972, college men outnumbered women in both the classrooms and the locker rooms. Five decades later, women outnumber men in the classroom but not on the courts or fields.
As female college enrollment rates climbed from 43% the year of the bill’s passage to nearly 60% today, colleges and universities have failed to maintain proportionate ratios in athletics – as of 2019, women represented 44% of NCAA athletes nationwide.
Proportionality is one of three ways schools can show compliance with Title IX. It requires the gender breakdowns of colleges’ varsity athletic programs to reflect their student bodies.
The other two are: showing a history and continuing practice of increasing the athletic opportunities for the underrepresented sex – usually women – or demonstrating the athletic interests and abilities of their female students are met.
Among the three, proportionality is considered the safest route and leads some colleges to overstate the number of female participants in their athletic programs.
Many athletic programs inflate their women's rosters
For many schools, balancing triple-digit football rosters with gender equity requirements means adding women’s sports, each of which could carry a hefty price tag.
Instead of footing those bills, it’s easier for schools to manipulate their rosters, a USA TODAY data analysis found.
The news organization’s analysis centered on 107 public schools in the Football Bowl Subdivision – the highest level in Division I – during the 2018-19 school year, the last full year before the pandemic upended the college sports landscape. USA TODAY filed hundreds of public records requests for the schools' squad lists and gender equity reports to the NCAA and wrote computer programs to collect online rosters and stats.
Which schools inflate their women's rosters the most
The big orange circles in the map above show which schools reported athletes in a way that inflated the number of women participants. Sixty-six did so by at least 20 athletes, USA TODAY’s investigation found.
Altogether, the 107 schools in the analysis added more than 3,600 participation “opportunities” for female athletes without adding a single women’s team.
It's important to note that these schools reported their roster counts to the U.S. Department of Education consistent with the agency's reporting guidelines. But those guidelines allow schools to paint a better picture of gender equity than what their programs offer. This distorted impression helps them to avoid further scrutiny by way of a federal complaint or a lawsuit under Title IX.
Tactic 1: Double- and triple-counting female athletes
Schools in the analysis created 2,252 women’s roster spots by double- and triple-counting athletes – a controversial counting method the Department of Education permits.
They double-counted women 50% more often than men and triple-counted women 70% more. The University of Hawaii netted 78 women’s roster spots through duplicate counting alone – more than its men’s baseball, basketball, tennis and volleyball teams combined.
Tactic 2: Overfilling rowing team rosters
Twenty-seven schools stuffed their women’s rowing rosters with more athletes than needed, including some that added dozens of novice rowers with no experience who never competed in varsity races.
Their teams averaged 87 women – more than double the maximum number most conference championships allow. Based on roster caps set in federal lawsuits at two Division I rowing programs, at least 838 female rowers – more than one-third of all female rowers counted – filled unnecessary roster spots.
Tactic 3: Counting male practice players as women
At least 1 of every 4 women’s basketball players the schools reported to the federal government were actually men.
Fifty-two schools counted as female participants at least 601 men who practice with women’s basketball teams. Arizona State University, for example, reported 38 women’s basketball players; 24 were men.
Twelve of the schools in the USA TODAY analysis employed all three tactics. By counting male practice players, double- and triple-counting track athletes and padding its rowing roster, these schools altogether drove up female participation counts by 841. Alabama gained 106 female participation opportunities this way.
Without Alabama's excess rowers, double-counted female athletes and male practice players, the school would no longer appear proportional in its athletic opportunities.