Title IX interpretation is shrouded in gray

May 9, 2009

Members of the UNI baseball team watch the action on the field during the Corridor Classic on April 28, 2009 at Veterans Memorial Stadium in Cedar Rapids. UNI won 9-3.  (Brian Ray/The Gazette)

Members of the UNI baseball team watch the action on the field during the Corridor Classic on April 28, 2009 at Veterans Memorial Stadium in Cedar Rapids. UNI won 9-3. (Brian Ray/The Gazette)

CEDAR FALLS — Interpreting Title IX is more gray than black and white for many college athletics departments.

Such is the case at Northern Iowa, where 57 percent of UNI’s students are female, but more than 61 percent of UNI’s student-athletes are male. That’s usually a red flag for advocates of Title IX, a federal law which prohibits sex discrimination in schools — and athletics departments — that receive federal funding.

Title IX was designed to offer male and female student-athletes equal treatment and opportunities. According to the National Women’s Law Center, equal opportunities are defined as “the percentages of male and female athletes are about the same as the percentages of male and female students at the school; that the school has a history and a continuing practice of expanding athletic opportunities for female students …” and “the school is fully meeting female athletes’ interests and abilities.”

Like most universities, UNI offers an interest survey to students to ensure it meets Title IX obligations. In 2005, UNI offered the survey to female students but only about 17 percent returned it. That puts the school in compliance but on shaky ground, UNI Athletics Director Troy Dannen said.

“Typically the way Northern Iowa has measured compliance is through a survey, and if you’re meeting the interests of the students, then you’re in compliance,” Dannen said. “Really, you’re not. It doesn’t make you any more in compliance; it just means there’s nobody on campus that really wants anything else from an opportunity standpoint.

“The true intent of Title IX was the proportionality, about plus or minus 5 percent.”

Dannen planned to alter the school’s Title IX makeup when he arrived on campus about a year ago. Some of those changes include managing roster sizes. The men’s track and field team boasted more than 100 members during the 2008 fiscal year. Although the track program offered only the NCAA maximum in scholarships, the program’s participants fit into the Title IX equation.

“Our men’s track and field numbers have doubled in the last three years,” Dannen said. “When you’re out of equity compliance, a male sport can’t be doubling its numbers. We have to manage those squad sizes.”

UNI currently offers 18 sports, which includes indoor/outdoor track and cross country, although those sports fall under the track umbrella. Citing a $600,000 reduction in university aid next year, UNI will drop baseball after this spring, which will help the school’s gender-equity numbers.

“(Title IX) didn’t influence the decision on baseball other than because we’re so far out of whack proportionally,” Dannen said. “When the funding was going to be there, women’s rugby has a place on campus. It’s a strong program, and what I said when I was introduced, the intent was to grow the women’s participation and given where we were headed financially before this big lop, we were headed on a path to be able to do that.”

Excluding a likely reduction in men’s track numbers next year, more than 56 percent of UNI’s athletics scholarships will go to men.

“We’re going to get those numbers back under control,” Dannen said. “The proportionality looks not at scholarship dollars, although that is a component. It really looks at opportunity to participate.”


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