Questions have been raised over the legitimacy of Temple’s excuse that Title IX was a reason for the university’s decision to eliminate seven Division I sports last month, while prompting greater scrutiny over enforcement of the gender-equity law passed in 1972.
President Theobald has twice mentioned Title IX specifically while making public comments explaining the cuts. During his president’s report at a Board of Trustees meeting four days after the cuts were announced, Theobald said the student-athletes of the affected sports are “casualties” of the university’s “overreach in trying to operate an athletic program beyond its facilities and resources, which caused us to be out of compliance with Federal law,” referencing Title IX specifically.
Title IX compliance was the first issue Theobald mentioned in an op-ed published in the Inquirer on Dec. 21 outlining the problems he saw with Temple’s athletic department upon his arrival at the university in January 2013.
However, some say a desire to be compliant with Title IX isn’t a legitimate excuse for cutting sports. Critics of the sports cuts say Temple could have simply reduced participation in men’s sports or added a women’s sport if it wanted to balance out Title IX numbers, while athletic administrators insist that Temple is bound by a roster management plan enacted after the university was re-certified by the NCAA in 2007.
The elimination of the women’s rowing team in particular has raised questions. The sport is well known to have blossomed at the end of the 20th century because many universities with large Division I football rosters added such programs for the specific purpose of balancing out Title IX numbers.
Temple added its women’s rowing team in 1986, a related move to that year’s decision to eliminate eight varsity sports. The Owls had 62 student-athletes on its roster last year, ranking behind only combined track & field in participation numbers among women’s sports, according to athletic data.
The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, which oversees Title IX enforcement, discourages the elimination of sports because “it diminishes opportunities for all students interested in participating in athletics, and so is contrary to the spirit of Title IX,” according to a statement released by an OCR spokesman.
Theobald denied an interview request for this article. In a phone interview last week, Senior Associate Athletic Director Kristen Foley said the desire to be compliant with Title IX wasn’t the “sole reason” for the cuts.
“You have to put it into perspective and keep [Title IX] in consideration with any decision you make in the athletic department,” Foley said.
Title IX requires that the proportion of male/female participation in athletics should closely resemble the gender ratio in the university’s undergraduate enrollment, while the percentage of athletic financial aid given to men and women should line up with participation numbers.
According to the most recent data, Temple has a ratio of 51 percent female to 49 percent male in its undergraduate population, while 52 percent of its student-athletes are men. Last year, Temple gave 58 percent of its athletic student aid to men.
Foley said the university has a roster management plan in place to ensure the athletic numbers line up. It was enacted as part of an overall gender-equity plan after the NCAA re-certified the university in 2007.
Foley insists that the sports cuts will move Temple’s Title IX numbers toward being compliant, but declined to talk specifics.
Still, despite whatever overtures Temple makes toward being Title IX compliant in the future, it’s unclear what, if any, penalties the university would have faced for its non-compliance.
Scores of Division I schools across the country are Title IX non-compliant. In Temple’s conference alone, the American Athletic Conference, half of the schools don’t pass the participation to aid numbers test.
Since Title IX was passed in 1972, the OCR has never denied federal funding to an institution for being non-compliant. If the OCR finds a compliance violation through an investigation, it is more likely to enter a “voluntary resolution agreement” with the university with a plan to come into compliance, according to a statement.
“It’s not necessarily we didn’t meet proportionality this year, so the OCR is going to come in and ding you,” Foley said.
Joey Cranney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @joey_cranney.