A Champion for Women's Sports
For Nancy Hogshead-Makar, sports has been an avenue for achievement and a source of healing. Florida schools' noncompliance with Title IX robs other women of those opportunities, she says.
In the past year, a number of schools, including Dartmouth, the University of Iowa, William & Mary, Fresno State and San Diego State, have moved to cut sports programs for both men and women. William & Mary later backtracked and reinstated all sports, including men’s teams, after several female student-athletes threatened to file a Title IX lawsuit.
In December, a federal judge granted an injunction against the University of Iowa, preventing it from dropping women’s swimming, or any other women’s sports, next fall. The case’s plaintiffs — six female swimmers — argued that while female enrollment as a percentage of total enrollment at Iowa had increased in recent years, female athlete participation and the amount of money spent on scholarships and recruitment for women’s sports had proportionately declined. According to the plaintiffs, the university is about 140 female athletes short of gender parity.
The university dismissed the plaintiffs’ statistical analysis as speculative and noted that the federal Office of Civil Rights had closed a Title IX investigation into gender equity in its athletic department with “no findings of any violation,” though the administration’s lawyers did not turn over the report or any other data that might have exonerated the school. They said an injunction against ending women’s swimming would do “significant harm” because it would exacerbate financial losses caused by the pandemic — the university estimates that maintaining the team over the next year would cost $1.1 million.
The judge ultimately ruled that the university likely is violating Title IX and that financial hardship is no defense, writing that public universities “may not simply plead limited resources to excuse the fact that there are fewer opportunities for girls than for boys.”
Hogshead-Makar, who dismisses the pandemic excuse as a “red herring,” says the proposed cuts reflect a fundamental shift in how colleges think about athletics.
“A hundred years ago, the U.S. did something no other country had done, which was to merge its educational system and its sports system. The idea was to make better soldiers and to make better men, to have a healthier population. We were going to use our tax dollars to teach things that you can’t learn on a blackboard,” she says.
In the 1980s, the idea that big money could be made from two sports in particular — football and men’s basketball — took hold, and “people kind of forgot what this is all about,” she says.
Today, most athletic directors are evaluated and compensated based on the success of those two programs, she says. “As such, most other sports are a distraction. Title IX can’t work miracles,” she says. “It can’t make a school value the educational mission of sports.”
In 1972, Congress passed Title IX, which requires schools that receive federal funding to provide equal educational opportunities, including sports, to men and women.
Under Title IX, schools can demonstrate gender equality in one of three ways: If athletic offerings match the percentages of male and female students at the school; if the school is continuously expanding opportunities for women; or if the school can show it’s fully meeting the interests and abilities of its female students.
Last year, Champion Women, a Jacksonville-based non-profit that advocates for girls and women in sports, joined with the California Women’s Law Center to analyze data from the Equity in Athletics Disclosure Act. They found that 90% of NCAA institutions — including the vast majority of Florida’s four-year public and private colleges — discriminate against women in sports.
Of the 26 major universities in Florida that have sports programs, 25 fail to provide equal access to women in terms of these three standards: Opportunities to play, scholarships and recruiting expenses. FGCU, FIT and UNF come close to women’s equality.
A female student who plays two sports typically is counted twice, which can make it appear that there are more women athletes than is actually the case, says Nancy Hogshead-Makar, CEO of Champion Women. A distance runner who runs indoor and outdoor track would be counted twice, for example. When a non-duplicated number is used, the gender gap at Florida’s four-year public and private institutions increases from 2,642 to 2,819, meaning the state’s colleges and universities would have to add a total of 2,819 more opportunities for women to reach parity, according to Champion Women.
Read more in Florida Trend's February issue.
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