Iannelli: Title IX investigation more bad karma

jerry iannelli

jerry iannelli“Someone must have filed a complaint.”

That’s what President Theobald told the Inquirer on Feb. 13 after alerting Temple’s coaches and trustees that the school is facing a federal Title IX gender-equality investigation. Representatives from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights will soon study Temple’s facilities and review its athletic budgets to gauge whether the university provides adequate opportunities to its female student-athletes.

According to a representative from the T7 Council, the complaint came from someone close to the crew and rowing teams, but further details are scarce. What we do know is this: As far as gender issues go, Title IX is an under-enforced rule, and has been since the law was enacted in 1972. While Title IX mandates that athletic scholarships mirror the gender ratio of a university’s student body, last year Temple gave 58 percent of its athletic aid to men, despite 51 percent of its student body being female. Very few folks – if anyone – have publicly batted an eyelash about compliance since the law was enacted. According to a study conducted by the Women’s Law Project, Temple ranked last in all of Pennsylvania in terms of Title IX compliance way back in 2006.

Since the coming investigation comes in the wake of a formal complaint, the only obvious corollary we can draw here is that the school brought this investigation on itself, and may very well have avoided an inquiry altogether had it dealt with its athletic budget issues in December with a bit more tact.

Though improbable, it’s within the realm of reason that the federal government may not find any lingering gender equality issues at all, in which case the investigation will act more as the symbolic icing on the proverbial public-relations-nightmare-cake that Temple’s brass has been chowing down on recently.

However, Theobald himself has admitted that the school somehow managed to avoid falling into Title IX compliance after axing seven sports, so some sanctions may more than likely be coming Temple’s way.

Either way, it’s fairly clear that Temple could have skated by without drawing the ire of the OCR had it not kicked the athletic hornet’s nest that very few people knew sat hidden in its backyard.

As for the fine folks in charge of enforcing Title IX? They have a knack for swooping into a situation far too late into the process, almost always long after any sort of controversy has broken out at a given university. In the past year alone, the OCR has investigated issues with Penn State’s, Florida State’s, and the University of Chicago’s sexual assault policies in the wake of large-scale rape scandals at each of the offending institutions. It isn’t clear whether the OCR has preemptively fixed any policy issues since Title IX has been enacted, though NCAA institutions do need to pass a recertification test every 10 years. About half of the universities in the American Athletic Conference are out of Title IX compliance in terms of scholarship aid, yet face no inquest.

This is mostly due to the fact that the Office of Civil Rights typically finds out about issues when formal complaints are filed with the Department of Education, which – given the timing of the Temple complaint – means only one thing: The university brought these issues to public attention, infuriated someone in its community and now must pay the consequences.

Jerry Iannelli can be reached at jerryi@temple.edu or on Twitter at @jerryiannelli.

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