In other Title IX news, I’ve been meaning to post about this NY Times article from last week alleging that there is widespread fraud amongst schools to get their athletic rosters to balance (i.e. counting male athletes as women, padding women’s teams with unqualified athletes, etc. as a means of roster management to ensure Title IX compliance). The general tone of the piece is that such practices are bad for women and undermine gender equity. I don’t deny that most of the stuff in the article is probably true. While I don’t know any specifics about the schools mentioned, I don’t find it surprising that schools would engage in the type of behavior outlined in the article. But I will disagree with the notion that the lesson from such behavior is that schools are actively trying to undermine gender equity.

My first impression after reading the article was along the lines of, “Well, if there’s any remaining doubt that Title IX has devolved to little more than a numbers game, this article should put that to rest.” People can talk all day long about the “three options” that schools have to comply with Title IX, but it’s hard to imagine schools going to such great lengths to make the numbers work out through roster management if they weren’t overwhelmingly concerned with the option of proportionality (making the gender ratio of athletes match the gender ratio of the overall student body). Rising female enrollment rates combined with higher interest in athletics among men and limited budgets put most schools between a rock and a hard place. They either don’t have the money and or the interest to support more female teams so as we see from time to time, they’ll cut men’s programs or resort to roster management to remain in compliance. And if a loophole like counting male practice players as female athletes is available to make the challenge of roster management a bit easier, I’m not surprised that a school would take it. They are simply responding to the incentives that they face in a ill-functioning and outdated system.

The Times article talks a lot about the rosters of women’s teams being beefed up with unqualified players, as if this is proof that women are being discriminated against. To me, it’s proof of just how ridiculous Title IX has become — that schools are forced to recruit warm bodies to fill up women’s teams in order to justify the number of men who want to play. We should strive for a more flexible policy than that. As long as we reduce Title IX to a men vs. women bean counting game, we won’t just get the type of roster management outlined in the Times piece, we’ll also distract ourselves from the real issue that Title IX is supposed to be about: stopping discrimination and providing equal opportunities, not outcomes.

Wendy Parker’s response to the NY Times piece is the most thoughtful and thorough that I’ve come across. If this is an issue that interests you, I encourage you to read Parker’s piece in full here.