False start

Women athletes at state schools are gaining under Title IX, but they still run far behind men in nearly every measure of equal treatment

Judy Dixon understands equal opportunity—and the lack of it. Dixon was the first person to file a sex discrimination case against a major university under Title IX, the landmark federal legislation that requires gender equity at any educational institution receiving federal funds.

In 1975, Dixon sued Yale University, where she was serving as the women’s tennis coach and women’s athletics coordinator, alleging the school was treating its women athletes shabbily and paying her less than a male colleague who had fewer responsibilities. Yale fired her after the lawsuit was filed, although the two parties eventually settled.

Today, Dixon is the women’s tennis coach at the Univ­ersity of Massachusetts Amherst. She says women athletes at the college level have come a long way since those early days of Title IX, but they still are not on a level playing field with men. Her UMass tennis team, for example, finally got its own locker room this year when an old storeroom that had been used by the long-defunct men’s wrestling team was converted for their use. The women’s lacrosse and soccer teams still share a locker room, unlike their male counterparts. Dixon says there are many other subtle—and not-so-subtle—ways in which women athletes are treated differently than their male counterparts, from food to uniforms to transportation.

The Title IX regulations say that “as long as you’re moving towards equality, you can be in compliance,” she says. “That’s like saying as long as we’re trying to create a cure for cancer, it’s OK we have cancer. Who decides you’re moving towards it? I don’t think there is enough attention paid to it, and I get very nervous.”

The compliance numbers for sports programs at taxpayer-supported state colleges and universities in Massa­chusetts seem to buttress Dixon’s analysis. Gains have been made by women athletes, but significant gaps remain. From tiny Roxbury Community College to the University of Massachusetts flagship school in Amherst, women run far behind men in nearly every measure of equal treatment, despite making up nearly 56 percent of the public higher education enrollment, according to federal data covering the 2008-2009 school year, the most recent available. The data show:

  • Massachusetts state colleges and universities as a whole spent $29.2 million on men’s and women’s sports, not in­cluding administrative salaries and other budget items unrelated to gender. Women’s sports received 38 percent of the money; men’s sports received 62 percent.
  • UMass Amherst, the state’s flagship school and a Divi­sion I competitor, spends nearly twice as much per capita on male athletes as it does on female athletes.
  • Of the $618,000 the school spent on recruiting, just 30 percent was earmarked for attracting women athletes to the school, with 70 percent going to woo male athletes.
  • At state schools, the average salary for a head coach of a men’s team is 26 percent more than what a head coach of a women’s team makes; assistant coaches on the men’s teams on average make 37 percent more than those on women’s teams. Much of the discrepancy is due to the salaries of UMass Amherst men’s basketball coach Derek Kellogg, who earns $215,000, and football coach Kevin Morris, who earns $200,000. The salary for Sharon Dawley, the new women’s basketball coach, could not be obtained, but records show her predecessor, Marnie Dacko, who coached eight seasons, topped out at $145,000.

UMass Amherst handed out $5.9 million in full and partial athletic scholarships to 382 students. Men received 56 percent of the scholarship money and women 44 percent, but the women’s share is inflated because it includes a disproportionate number of scholarships to out-of-state students, whose tuition and room and board are nearly 60 percent higher than what in-state students are charged.

Some of the moves state schools have taken to comply with Title IX seem curious (counting cheerleaders as athletes) or downright bizarre (counting men as women if the men practice with the women’s basketball team). Penalties for schools not in compliance with Title IX have been rare, but that may be starting to change. The Obama administration has stiffened some compliance standards and dramatically accelerated the number of athletic-related compliance reviews. Meanwhile, a federal judge in Conn­ect­icut ruled in July that cheerleading is not a sport for Title IX purposes.

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The athletic directors at Massa­chu­setts state schools say the numbers do not tell the whole story. They say they are, for the most part, in compliance with Title IX, based on other, more subjective forms of measurement that the federal government allows. One exception is Dana Skinner, athletic director at the University of Massa­chu­setts Lowell. He says more needs to be done at his school to meet Title IX’s mandates.

“We obviously don’t commit the level of resources we need to in order to be in full compliance,” he says. “I will not be completely happy until we can say we are treating our programs completely equitably. We want our female athletes to have the same experience as our men. The only way to get to compliance is to be honest with where you are.”

A lot has changed

Title IX is most closely associated with gender equality in sports, even though the word “sports” was not included in the statute. The legislation was an outgrowth of the civil rights movement of the 1960s. It was passed by Congress in 1972, but it wasn’t until 1975, 35 years ago this year, that then-President Gerald Ford signed the final regulations into law.

A lot has changed since then. When Title IX became law, only one in 27 high school girls played sports, and women’s sports received less than 2 percent of the athletic budgets at colleges and universities. Today, one of nearly every three girls in high school plays sports, women’s sports garner 37 percent of college athletic budgets, and 41 percent of all college athletes are women.

Schools can meet the gender equity requirements of Title IX in any one of three ways. The most straightforward method is proportionality, meaning the number of men and women playing varsity sports should be in rough proportion to their enrollment numbers at the school. Proportionality also applies to the distribution of scholarships, facilities, coaches and their pay, and trainers.

The second method is to demonstrate a “history and continuing practice of program expansion for the underrepresented gender,” which in most cases is women. Most institutions are finding this difficult to do; it’s simply too expensive to add new sports at a time when revenues for all sorts of college programs are declining.

The third method is to show that the athletic interests of women are being fully accommodated. But demonstrating that women have the sports opportunities they want is not easy. Under the administration of former President George W. Bush, the Department of Education allowed schools to use surveys to show what sports students were interested or not interested in. In some cases, schools said unreturned surveys indicated a lack of interest and used that information to justify cutting sports out of their programs. The Obama administration has changed course, ruling in August that the use of surveys for such purposes could only be used in conjunction with more thorough methods of assessing the level of interest, including interviews with coaches and alumni, and requiring universities to match the types of programs area “feeder” high schools offer.

Neena Chaudhry, senior counsel at the National Women’s Law Center in Washington, DC, and an expert on Title IX, says the change in policy was needed because surveys were being used as justification for reducing sports offerings. “You can’t just rely on a survey,” she says. “It doesn’t hold water that women aren’t interested in sports when there are over 3 million girls playing high school sports.”

At some schools across the country, athletic directors grappling with budget shortfalls have tried to reduce spending and bring their programs into proportional balance by cutting men’s programs. “You never make a funding decision without looking at your Title IX,” says Skinner, who has had to cut the football, wrestling, and men’s and women’s tennis teams because of budget reductions.

In the four decades since Title IX has been the law of the land, 212 colleges have eliminated men’s gymnastics, to the point that there are just 18 programs left in the country; 355 schools have cut their men’s wrestling programs; more than 60 men’s swimming and diving programs have been eliminated; and a number of schools, including North­eastern University and Boston Univer­sity, have shut down their football programs.

But Title IX advocates say cutting men’s teams was never the intent of the law. They also point out that men’s sports programs, in the aggregate, have not suffered dramatic cutbacks.

More men played college sports in 2008 than women —244,267 versus 182,503—but there were 9,560 teams for women compared to 8,465 for men. According to a 2008 report by the NCAA on athletic participation, NCAA-member schools added 2,678 men’s sports while dropping 2,484 between 1988 and 2008, a net gain of 194. During the same 20-year period, colleges and universities added 3,978 women’s sports programs and dropped 1,690, a net gain of 2,288.

In 2006, UMass Amherst cut seven programs, including the men’s tennis, gymnastics, indoor track, and water polo teams and the women’s volleyball, gymnastics, and water polo programs.

Jennifer Braceras, a UMass trustee and a former appointee of President George W. Bush to the US Com­mission on Civil Rights, says she believes in Title IX and the goal of expanding opportunities for women athletes at the university’s campuses. But she says the emphasis on technical parity between the sexes misses a broader point about what sports have become on college campuses.

“From a board of trustees’ perspective, I view Division-I athletics as more than being just about the students,” she says. “As an alumna and as a trustee and as somebody who has looked at this area academically, I would say the focus should be on the branding of the school and what provides our university with the most benefit marketing-wise.”

Scholarship comparisons

Laura Danai is every school’s dream of what a student-athlete should be. She excelled both in the classroom and on the tennis court at UMass Amherst. She was the tennis team’s most valuable player her junior year and had a perfect 11-0 record in the fall season of her senior year. She graduated with honors in 2009 with a degree in biology and is now pursuing a PhD at the University of Massa­chu­setts Medical School in Worcester.

But for all her accomplishments, Danai received just $1,000 in scholarship money, and that came in her senior year. During her last two years at UMass she commuted from her parents’ home in Pittsfield to save money. “My parents don’t come from a lot of money,” she says. “Since I didn’t get an athletic scholarship, I’m in debt now from student loans.”

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Natalie Muka of Cortland, New York, had a different experience. A forward on the women’s soccer team, she receives a scholarship that covers 70 percent of her out-of-state tuition. “I love UMass, but I probably would not have come without it,” she says of the scholarship. “The money was crucial because of the out-of-state tuition.”

The money is also crucial for the university’s compliance with Title IX. For NCAA Division I and Division II schools, scholarships are one of the simplest and easiest ways to gauge compliance. Title IX guidelines require schools to distribute athletic scholarships within roughly 1 percent of the proportional participation by the genders. But a scholarship to an out-of-state student plays a much bigger role at a school such as UMass because of the disparity between in-state and out-of-state tuition at public colleges and universities. In-state tuition plus room, board, and fees at UMass Amherst is $19,000 a year, but students from other New England states are charged $23,000 and students from beyond New England are charged $32,000.

A scholarship to an out-of-state state student doesn’t cost the university any more—the cost of teaching, housing or feeding a student doesn’t change whether they are from Massachusetts or elsewhere—but the higher rates charged for out-of-state students pumps up the amount of overall scholarship aid going to women.

UMass officials would not release the numbers of out-of-state versus in-state athletic scholarships, but data filed with the federal government covering the 2008-09 school year suggest scholarship aid is flowing disproportionately to out-of-state women athletes.

About 18.5 percent of UMass undergraduate students come from outside Massachusetts, but a review of the 10 women’s sports rosters shows that 57 percent of the athletes hail from out of state.

All 13 women basketball players received full scholarships valued at $465,153. Only one member of the team was from Massachusetts.

On the field hockey team, 19 players were awarded full or partial scholarship worth a total of $330,926. Eleven of the 19 players were from out of state and two others were from other countries.

The tennis team had 11 players, including five from out of state and five from other countries. All but two of those players received near-full scholarships. The only Massachusetts player on the team, Danai, received a $1,000 scholarship.

Chaudhry of the National Women’s Law Center reviewed the UMass data and concluded the school is not in compliance. “Their scholarships are not within the 1 percent guideline,” she says. She acknowledges the 1 percent rule is a guideline that can be waived if there are other mitigating factors, but she says the school’s use of out-of-state scholarships raises flags. “Schools use [out-of-state] scholarships because they want to try to up their numbers for women in a way that is easy,” she says.

UMass Amherst Athletic Director John McCutcheon urges caution in interpreting the scholarship data. “I wouldn’t get too hung up on out-of-state figures,” he says. “If the question is, are we using out-of-state scholarships to somehow manipulate compliance, it’s no.”

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Dixon, the tennis coach, agrees on this one. In order to be competitive, she says she has to recruit from outside Massa­chusetts. With bigger and more well-known programs such as Stanford and Duke scooping up the best US players, she eyes foreign players who want a chance to live, learn, and play in America.

Dixon says she receives no directives from above on who to recruit and who to avoid. “Our scholarships for tennis have increased dramatically over the years,” she says. “We’re not told where to get people from. We’re told to get the best team we can and go anywhere we have to go.” But Dixon concedes that using her scholarship money on the higher-tuition imports also bulks up the bottom line for the school’s compliance officer.

“I actually think it’s a happy coincidence,” she says.

Crunching numbers

In many ways, Title IX compliance has become all about the numbers. Colleges analyze the number of students enrolled, the number of athletes, and their financial data to determine whether men and women are being treated equally. Every athletic program decision is reviewed within that context.

At Westfield State University, women represent 52 percent of the school’s enrollment and 46 percent of the school’s athletes. Women’s sports receive about 47 percent of the athletic budget.

Nancy Bals, associate director of athletics and senior women’s administrator at Westfield, says the school satisfies Title IX requirements because it has demonstrated a history and continuing practice of program expansion for its women students by creating a women’s lacrosse team a few years ago and a golf team two years ago.

In addition, Westfield athletic officials count the school’s competitive cheerleading squad as a varsity sport for compliance purposes despite US Department of Education regulations prohibiting the practice. Those regulations were upheld in a recent court decision in Con­necticut, which said cheerleading cannot be counted unless a school is granted a waiver by the federal agency, which Westfield does not have.

Bals insists competitive cheering should be counted as a varsity sport, despite the ruling this summer by US District Court Judge Stefan Underhill in a suit filed by members of the women’s volleyball team at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut. The judge held that Quinnipiac could not use cheerleading to comply with Title IX participation regulations because “the activity is still too underdeveloped and disorganized to be treated as offering genuine varsity athletic participation opportunities for students.”

Even without cheerleading, Bals says, Westfield is within with 5 to 7 percentage points of proportionality between men and women athletes. “Five percent is five percent,” she says. “It’s not zero, I understand that.”

At Bridgewater State University, women make up 60 percent of the student body but only 42 percent of the school’s athletes. Approximately 44 percent of the athletic budget goes to women’s sports.

Still, Mike Storey, the school’s associate athletic director, says Bridgewater State is in compliance because the number of teams is equal for men and women even if the number of participants is not. Storey says funding an equal number of sports for women, even if the dollars don’t match up, addresses the program expansion and overall interest provisions of Title IX compliance. “We’re in compliance with two out of three,” he says. “We’ll never be in compliance with proportionality.”

UMass Amherst reports to the federal government that its women’s basketball team has 21 members. A small caveat to the records indicates six to eight of the team members are men yet are counted as women for Title IX purposes. The men participate in practices, providing extra bodies, challenges, and rest at scrimmages for the dozen or so members of the team.

In addition to giving regular team members some breathers during practice, the men also provide one more area of assistance for UMass: They are counted in the total number of participants for women’s teams when UMass submits its report to the federal government about complying with women’s sports mandates.

UMass Amherst athletic director McCutcheon says even though men are included in the census when the report is submitted, university officials do not count the men for compliance purposes internally. He says UMass has closed the gender gap significantly in terms of participation and scholarship dollars. “We’ve made progress,” he says. “I think we’re pretty close.”

Braceras says she is a supporter of expanding opportunities for women athletes, “but the money isn’t endless.” In 2007, she was named the head of a trustee task force studying the establishment of women’s ice hockey teams at the Amherst and Lowell campuses to add more athletic slots for women, as well as to take advantage of a growing regional interest in the sport by women. There are 100 high school girls’ ice hockey programs in Massachusetts with nearly 1,800 players, according to an annual survey by the National Federation of High School Associations.

“The reason I proposed the task force was it seemed to me a natural area where the university could expand opportunities for women,” she says. “It’s exploding in interest. We’re a New England school, winter sports can be our signature sports.”

Braceras said the idea never got off the ground for one simple reason: “The economy tanked.”

The continuing economic maelstrom is putting the squeeze on athletic directors, especially those at public schools who have to answer to taxpayers. Despite interest in women’s ice hockey, only one state school, UMass Boston, offers a varsity women’s ice hockey team, on which they spend $111,000. Nine state colleges and universities, including all four UMass campuses, have men’s ice hockey programs, which cost $3.7 million.

“How do you balance off a Division I men’s hockey team in numbers, scholarships and money? Obviously, a women’s ice hockey team,” says Skinner, UMass Lowell’s athletic director. “That certainly is a path to full compliance with Title IX standards. Unfortunately, you’re subject to the swinging pendulum of the economy and hockey is a very expensive sport to maintain.”

Football is an elephant

The ultimate Title IX numbers game, and the proverbial elephant in the room, is football. University officials tend to be supportive of the sport because it brings money and prestige and engenders alumni loyalty, but the high cost of football and the huge size of college squads make compliance with Title IX a nightmare.

Julia Lafreniere, the coach of the UMass Amherst women’s cross country and the indoor and outdoor track teams, says her programs are among the ones the school uses to counterbalance the huge disparity caused by having 97 football players.

She says the combined women’s programs she coaches have about 133 members, but some of those are counted three times for compliance purposes because they participate on each of the three teams. Men’s cross country and track teams can do the same thing but school administrators limit their rosters  so the number of participants who can count as more than one slot is far lower. “On the women’s side, we can help schools with the numbers against football,” says Lafreniere, who as a UMass undergraduate in 1975 was a member of the first women’s cross country team started in response to Title IX.

Lafreniere says football is an important sport at many schools and she would never want to see it eliminated, as Northeastern University and BU did. But, she says, it cannot be excluded from the conversation when it comes to Title IX compliance.

“Title IX is just trying to protect women’s rights to be funded and have the same opportunities that the men are given,” she says. Having a big football program is “like having a family and the eldest son gets to eat everything he wants and then everyone else in the family gets to eat whatever’s left. Until things change in college athletics, I just see more sports going to the chopping block.”

At some schools, a powerhouse football team can generate enough money through ticket sales, booster donations, television contracts, and clothing sales to pay for nearly all of a university’s athletic programs. But that’s not the case at any Massachusetts state college or university.

When UMass Amherst, a Division I-AA school, played Division I-A giant Michigan in Ann Arbor in September, the school was paid $550,000 for the game, in which it nearly upset the then-top 25 Wolverine team. But Michigan is the only top tier opponent on the UMass Amherst schedule this year, and the other opponents offer nowhere near that kind of payday.

In fact, the numbers submitted to the US Department of Education do not reflect any kind of bonanza as far as revenues go for Massachusetts public schools that field football teams. The eight state colleges and universities with football teams spent a little more than $5 million on their pigskin programs, according to the most recent report, while reporting revenues of $4.9 million, with a deficit of about $50,000. Overall, the state’s schools lost $660,000 on all their athletic programs, with men’s programs losing slightly more ($350,000) than women’s programs ($310,000).

“To me, ‘revenue producing’ means making money, paying for yourself, but I don’t think there’s one UMass sport that pays for itself,” says Lafreniere.

Few women pay attention

Title IX, fast approaching middle age along with its pioneers, continues to be a hot button issue in the halls and gyms of academia. It’s a fact of life for administrators, coaches, and players, yet few people understand or want to talk about the mandates that can have such a major impact on their lives. Athletes at state schools interviewed for this story either declined comment or offered few complaints.

Kelsey Anderson, a college senior from Saugus who receives a 70 percent scholarship for playing soccer at UMass Amherst, says she believes women get a fair shake. “I think they try to make things as fair as possible,” she says. “Football, basketball, hockey—they’re always going to be promoted more.”

Jackie Zacarian, who played field hockey for two years at UMass before injuries forced her to stop, says who gets what among men and women was not often a topic of conversation among the athletes. But Zacarian, who wrote her master’s thesis at Northeastern on Title IX, said it’s the right law for the right reasons, even though few people, including those most affected by it, pay attention.
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“People don’t really discuss it too much,” says Zacarian, who now is an assistant coach at Northeastern and coaches at a private girls high school in Boston. “Nobody made an issue of it at UMass. I think there’s really nothing to discuss. But I think we’ll always need the law. I think schools, if they could, would fly under the radar.”

Meet the Author

Jack Sullivan

Senior Investigative Reporter, CommonWealth

About Jack Sullivan

Jack Sullivan is now retired. A veteran of the Boston newspaper scene for nearly three decades. Prior to joining CommonWealth, he was editorial page editor of The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, a part of the GateHouse Media chain. Prior to that he was news editor at another GateHouse paper, The Enterprise of Brockton, and also was city edition editor at the Ledger. Jack was an investigative and enterprise reporter and executive city editor at the Boston Herald and a reporter at The Boston Globe.

He has reported stories such as the federal investigation into the Teamsters, the workings of the Yawkey Trust and sale of the Red Sox, organized crime, the church sex abuse scandal and the September 11 terrorist attacks. He has covered the State House, state and local politics, K-16 education, courts, crime, and general assignment.

Jack received the New England Press Association award for investigative reporting for a series on unused properties owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and shared the association's award for business for his reporting on the sale of the Boston Red Sox. As the Ledger editorial page editor, he won second place in 2007 for editorial writing from the Inland Press Association, the nation's oldest national journalism association of nearly 900 newspapers as members.

At CommonWealth, Jack and editor Bruce Mohl won first place for In-Depth Reporting from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors for a look at special education funding in Massachusetts. The same organization also awarded first place to a unique collaboration between WFXT-TV (FOX25) and CommonWealth for a series of stories on the Boston Redevelopment Authority and city employees getting affordable housing units, written by Jack and Bruce.

About Jack Sullivan

Jack Sullivan is now retired. A veteran of the Boston newspaper scene for nearly three decades. Prior to joining CommonWealth, he was editorial page editor of The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, a part of the GateHouse Media chain. Prior to that he was news editor at another GateHouse paper, The Enterprise of Brockton, and also was city edition editor at the Ledger. Jack was an investigative and enterprise reporter and executive city editor at the Boston Herald and a reporter at The Boston Globe.

He has reported stories such as the federal investigation into the Teamsters, the workings of the Yawkey Trust and sale of the Red Sox, organized crime, the church sex abuse scandal and the September 11 terrorist attacks. He has covered the State House, state and local politics, K-16 education, courts, crime, and general assignment.

Jack received the New England Press Association award for investigative reporting for a series on unused properties owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and shared the association's award for business for his reporting on the sale of the Boston Red Sox. As the Ledger editorial page editor, he won second place in 2007 for editorial writing from the Inland Press Association, the nation's oldest national journalism association of nearly 900 newspapers as members.

At CommonWealth, Jack and editor Bruce Mohl won first place for In-Depth Reporting from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors for a look at special education funding in Massachusetts. The same organization also awarded first place to a unique collaboration between WFXT-TV (FOX25) and CommonWealth for a series of stories on the Boston Redevelopment Authority and city employees getting affordable housing units, written by Jack and Bruce.

Dixon, the tennis coach at UMass Amherst who literally started the ball rolling in 1975, says student athletes have little historical perspective. “Every three years I show my kids a film on Title IX,” she says. “They think it’s always been as good as it is and they don’t realize how much there still is to go.”

Information on Title IX compliance in athletics for all public and private colleges and universities in the country can be found at this database from the federal Department of Education.