Virginia Commonwealth University will add a women’s lacrosse team, in an effort to shore up its compliance with Title IX, according to this article in the Baltimore Sun. The team will compete in the Atlantic 10 conference starting in the 2014-15 season.
Overall, I agree that this move gives VCU strong arguments for compliance under both prong one and prong three.
VCU’s athletics data disclosure forms show that its student body is 56% female, and that the university affords 50% of its athletic opportunities to women. Women’s lacrosse will add up to 30 new opportunities, bringing the percentage of female athletic opportunities to 54.7%. This is very close to proportionality, and would likely satisfy any court or agency evaluating VCU’s compliance under prong one because the number of additional female athletic opportunities the institution would have to add to bring women’s proportional to 56% is very small — 8-9, by my math. According to OCR, as long as this number is smaller than needed to form an additional team, the institution satisfies the substantially proportionality test. The only possible argument against VCU’s compliance with prong one is that golf, which VCU offers to men but not women, is a small roster team, and theoretically could be added to achieve exact proportionality. VCU’s men’s golf team has, coincidentally, 8 members.
Additionally, however, VCU’s adding of women’s lacrosse bolsters its compliance under prong three, an alternative means of demonstrating compliance by showing no unmet interest among the underrepresented sex. By adding a sport that is popular in VCU’s region and is already played in VCU’s conference, it appears to be addressing what would be otherwise be a strong argument for unmet interest.
The one compliance prong VCU would probably not be a good candidate for is prong two, which requires a history and continuing practice of adding opportunity for the underrepresented sex. I could not find out when VCU last added a women’s team, but it must have been at least ten years ago, since EADA reports going back that far do not show any additions during that time. “Continuing practice” requires more regularity than that — roughly every 3 years depending on the circumstances. My guess, however, is that VCU is not concerned about prong two, since it has strong arguments for compliance under both prongs one and three.