By Laura Pappano
Last July when Federal District Court Judge Stefan Underhill found Quinnipiac University violated Title IX, in part, because it counted cheerleading as a varsity sport, most of the debate was about – you guessed it: Is cheerleading a sport?
The decision, however, also discussed the school’s “roster management” practices that made it appear that there were more female athletes than there actually were.
At the time, ESPN writer Gregg Easterbrook complained that “the decision includes a good 20 pages of hair-splitting arguments regarding how many members the school’s various teams have…” – what he found to be “ultratrivia” that made the complaint a “junk-science lawsuit.”
What Easterbrook (and others) feel is focus on minutiae, however, turns out to be a pattern of dissembling that colleges use to skirt Title IX rules. NY Times reporter Katie Thomas has done compelling reporting to reveal a practice that is nothing short of – well – widespread cheating.
What women’s college cross-country team has 75 runners on its roster? Answer: The University of South Florida. (The men’s team has nine).
Thomas interviews women who don’t even know that they are included on the rosters of women’s sports teams – as well as those who know they are included but are not required to attend practice if they don’t want to. Not attending practice is unthinkable – even for children playing recreational sports.
All this reminds us that those who sound the drumbeat of Title IX hurting men’s sports are missing the point: Despite the law, despite “progress,” many institutions are still just pretending to play fair when it comes to gender equity in sports.
We’ve known for years that Title IX is not well-enforced. But the level of dissembling that Thomas’ investigation reveals is downright embarrassing to the Office for Civil Rights and to the colleges and universities who take public dollars and tuition money – and, by the way, not just from their male students.
Campus protest, anyone?