The University of Georgia’s student newspaper has an article on how the school approached compliance with Title IX and what this means for the athletic department, student-athletes, and club sports. Regarding the latter, it seems that many club sports are waiting for their call up, to use a baseball metaphor, to “the show.” In other words, because UGA chooses prong two compliance (expanding opportunities) and has added teams in the past to meet this version of compliance, some women’s club teams are wondering when it might be their chance. Women’s rowing has been especially hopeful. Rowing has been used–with mixed results and mixed motivations–as a sort of panacea for football problem that most schools that field a football team have: an imbalance of opportunities.
But rowing–along with other UGA club sports–is losing hope. There has not been a new women’s team added since 2002 and no talk of adding another team for 5-6 years according the rowing coach. UGA has opted to add spots to existing women’s teams instead. This practice, referred to as roster management, has come under scrutiny, not because it is not a viable way to comply, but because it is often not done correctly. The NYT ran an investigative piece in 2011 about the roster management scams happening at some schools–adding athletes without them ever knowing, adding athletes and then dropping them once the season starts (and rosters are in), using male practice players to pad women’s numbers. And it received a great deal of attention. We hoped this national coverage would put schools who were engaging in these practices on notice. And it may have.
It does not appear that UGA is doing anything wrong. But we have to wonder just how many spots they can add to existing teams without overburdening the teams and taking power over roster size out of a coach’s hands. And we should ask how equitable this practice is. Are we asking the coaches of men’s team to increase their roster sizes, to deal with additional players? How big can one make the softball team and still provide student-athletes with a comparable experience? Equal opportunities is only one area of compliance. A school cannot simply add spots while not guaranteeing equal treatment.
Of course there is no guarantee of equal treatment when a whole team is added. This has actually been a problem, especially for women’s rowing teams. They get elevated to varsity status but wait years for facilities, for better equipment, for equitable travel situations. Some even have to file complaints with OCR or lawsuits against the school in order to get what they were promised.
Again, this has not happened at UGA, maybe in part because UGA has been careful about when and which sports to add. The question is, how many spots do they have to add a year, every two years, every three years, in order to remain prong two compliant? At what point does the rowing team–or any other club team–have a viable argument that the school is not providing equitable opportunities?