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The Complicated Puzzle of Title IX and the Patriot League

There's a lot going on in the news these days: the Sotomayor confirmation hearings, the potential bankruptcy of CIT, the accidental hazardous chemical spill at Lehigh (with no casualties, thankfully), and - most importantly to a lot of people - Hermione Granger (I mean, actress Emma Watson's) choice to attend Brown University. (One can only hope she follows in fellow Ivy Leaguer Brooke Shields' (Princeton) footsteps.)

With all this going on, it would have been real easy to miss two very interesting NCAA news releases released in the dead of summer regarding potentially momentous changes into the way financial aid is accounted, especially in regards to the Patriot League and athletic aid.

The first involves an article from the NCAA News regarding Fordham's move to scholarships featuring quotes from the executive director of the Patriot League, Ms. Carolyn Femovich. While official statements have been made before, this interview goes more into detail on what is happening and might happen:

Fordham has declared its intent to offer athletics scholarships for football student-athletes beginning in 2010, and the Patriot League now will grapple with whether to allow its member institutions to follow suit.

The league’s presidents will decide by December 31, 2010, what direction to take.

Executive Director Carolyn Femovich said several factors will influence the Patriot League’s decision, including economic conditions, Title IX requirements, and the history and tradition of the conference as one that does not offer football athletics aid.

Scroll down in the article and it gets even more interesting:

The decision to award athletics aid to football players at Fordham had little to do with economics. Unlike most institutions in the Patriot League, Fordham counted need-based aid given to football players toward its gender-equity limits under Title IX. The school already offered a comparable number of athletics scholarships to women as to men.

At most Patriot League schools, however, the need-based aid awarded to football players is not counted toward gender-equity limits. Therefore, if other institutions in the conference were to move toward awarding athletics aid in football, they also would need to award a comparable amount of athletics aid to female student-athletes to meet generally accepted Title IX requirements. For example, if a school were to offer 60 scholarships in football, it would need to offer 60 scholarships to female student-athletes as well.

For Fordham, which already counted its need-based aid as a scholarship for gender-equity purposes, the scale is already balanced. The school simply repackaged its dollars to be more strategic and assist in the recruitment of football student-athletes. (The school outlines its decision and its repercussions in a detailed Q&A document.) Most Patriot League schools do not count that way, and any move toward allowing the scholarships could be cost-prohibitive for them.

The subject of Title IX has been something that has been dogging the Patriot League fan community for years, and has confused the entire picture about need-based aid. This snippet tries to clarify the issues, but there is more to the story than just what's mentioned here.

Gender Equity
Title IX basically states philosophically that "men and women should have equal access to a sports experience in campus". On the ground, there are different ways (or "prongs") to implement this: 1) through proportionality ("if the U. is 65% male, 65% of the sports opportunities go to men"), 2) through continual improvement ("we weren't good before at offering athletic opportunities to women, but we've gotten better"), and 3) through "effective accommodation of the underrepresented sex" ("we surveyed the women on campus, but they don't want scholarships for their volleyball team").

For basketball, Title IX compliance is a lay-up: offer up to ten scholarships for men, and offer ten scholarships for women - a perfect balance. But in football - with many, many scholarships to be offered and no female sport "offset" - Title IX balance is more of a challenge. Frequently schools offer scholarships in female-only sports (field hockey, softball) to offset athletics aid in football and frequently don't offer other male-only sports (wrestling, baseball) in order to make the Title IX balance work out. (Portland State is a school that recently dropped wrestling, citing Title IX concerns.)

Patriot League Impact
One thing this article doesn't get quite right is the implication that Patriot League schools' football aid doesn't count towards Title IX limits. That's not quite right: the Patriot League's need-based aid does count to the NCAA in terms of scholarship limits and Title IX calculations, and always has. But how each Patriot League school accounts for Title IX is wildly different.

Going back, Title IX has three prongs of compliance. But it's up to the individual school to decide how they are going to comply with Title IX, depending on their own situation.

For example, Lehigh's proportion of male-to-female students (57% male, 43% female) means that, broadly, Lehigh can use 57% of its resources for men's sports (which allows it to have a scholarship wrestling program plus have more than 50 football scholarship equivalencies) and satisfy Title IX. But for Holy Cross (44% male, 56% female) it's not practical to rely on the proportionality prong - they need to either rely on one of the other two prongs, or make some very tough choices in scholarship offerings.

And demographically the schools of the league are consistent with the trend that schools (especially private schools') ratios are becoming more and more female dominated: just looking at the ratios of Fordham (43% male, 57% female), Colgate (48%/52%), Bucknell (47%/53%) and Georgetown (46%/54%) bear this out. Only Lehigh and Lafayette (54%/46%) have more men than women - but year to year this ratio has been falling for years at all Patriot League schools.

For schools with tough ratios, you don't have to count Title IX as "number of scholarships" for compliance either - you can also count it as actual athletics spending. And some aid can be considered "gender-neutral" - making a new basketball arena, for example, or a new weight-training facility - since such improvements are not considered gender-specific though in reality it could benefit one sport more than the other. (There's evidence that nearly every Division I institution does this form of accounting in one form or another.)

To make matters worse Title IX compliance may have just gotten more difficult with a new ruling against UC-Davis that might make proportionality even harder:

Judges have typically ruled that universities are in compliance with the federal gender-equity law known as Title IX if the proportion of athletes who are women is within 5 percent of the representation of women in the total enrollment.

But a settlement announced Wednesday between the University of California-Davis and three female athletes holds the university’s athletic officials to a stricter 1.5 percent standard and could influence similar cases around the country, according to lawyers who are knowledgeable about gender-equity cases.

What happened in this case was that UC-Davis has a percentage of female "athletic aid" that was within 5% of the gender ratio of the university - which in the past had been enough for Title IX compliance. However, UC-Davis was held to a stricter standard - 1.5% - and the university had to settle out of court. If this becomes national precendent, there are a lot of schools nationally that may find themselves on the losing end of legal challenges.

For those scoring at home, this means Patriot League schools that might have previously been in the clear on Title IX now may no longer be in the "buffer zone" and may need to spend more money just to stay in compliance using the old 5% method.

Need-Based versus Scholarships
There's more, though. In the Patriot League, when aid is considered need-based, in the past it has been considered enough for Title IX compliance to simply put money aside in a pot for "money on women's athletics" and not even spend it. The idea is that the schools set aside (say) a certain amount for men's athletic aid, and a certain amount for women's athletic aid. If the men find themselves more needy than the women (which in general they do), then more ends up getting spent on the men. As one high-placed Patriot League official told me, "as long as the money is available, it's OK", and multiple Patriot League schools do this for Title IX compliance today.

For Fordham, the economic decision to "go scholarship" in football effectively cost them nothing since they did not account for gender equity in this way. They were already spending athletics money in accordance with Title IX, and the great majority (if not all) of their football spending was on qualifying need-based aid. So from their perspective, why go through the financial aid office at all? It was just a matter of taking an equal amount of money out of the "need-based" pot and putting it in the "scholarship" pot - no contortions necessary.

But if the rest of the Patriot League offers scholarships, this math changes for some schools that haven't already offered full scholarships in other sports. First of all, the amount needed in both male and female athletic pots grows immensely right off the bat - student-athletes who used to have a only part of a their scholarship "count" (work-study and need-based aid don't count in their accounting) are now having the entire amount count towards scholarship spending. Overall expenses for both sexes could skyrocket, especially at schools where nearly all the athletes are need-based aid in one form or another.

At a bare minimum it will increase their amount of athletics spending immensely. It could also mean that Patriot League schools may need to abandon this type of accounting for Title IX - meaning that schools will now have to actually spend millions more on top of everything in order just to get in compliance. It could literally mean that spending one million dollars more on football could mean the school has to spend (in addition) two million dollars or more for women's sports.

That's not exactly what school presidents like to hear. It's aggravating enough for those schools to spend millions more dollars on a gender-equity "problem" that's only one of artificial compliance rather than demand, but in this historic recession that is causing immense pain throughout higher education it's nearly impossible to justify.

It's this situation which seems to have some Patriot League schools balking at offering football scholarships, and also prompted Ms. Femovich to say this in her latest statement:

Femovich imagined that, should the presidents move toward football scholarships, the implementation would be similar to the league’s move toward basketball scholarships: Simply declare the football aid permissible and allow each institution to make decisions on its own.

“That approach allows schools to determine the best approaches on their individual campuses,” Femovich said. “I think if we went that direction, some might work to get up to 58 or 60 equivalencies, and others might say we’ll do scholarships for key athletes and other individuals that might not have the need, but we’ll do a combination, a hybrid model.”

In a nutshell, those that want to offer scholarships can offer them, and if they don't they don't have to (or could ramp up to them gradually, at the pace of the school). A detractor might say that this scenario might wreck competitiveness in the Patriot League: but you could also say that it's not functionally different than the status quo, either, where Georgetown (who is widely believed to be operating in between 30-40 scholarship equivalencies) hasn't had a winning record in the Patriot League in their eight years as a member.

Changing the Rules?
This comes to the other bombshell, released on the NCAA website in the dead of summer, where the NCAA mentions offhandedly that they're considering turning the definition of financial aid for athletes upside down.

The Division I Financial Aid Cabinet is considering a change in the way need-based aid factors into institutional totals as part of a comprehensive review of the division’s financial aid bylaws.

Charged by the Division I Board of Directors with reviewing NCAA legislation for potential cost savings while also enhancing student-athlete well-being, cabinet members are exploring changes in the way need-based aid is tallied – perhaps allowing student-athletes to accept either institutional or athletics aid, whichever is greater, without negatively affecting team totals. In September, the group will look at how that concept and others would work legislatively and begin generating membership discussion with an eye toward crafting legislative proposals within the next year.

For the Patriot League, this could change the entire playing field since football is still considered need-based aid. While the release is understandably vague, this cabinet's decision will certainly have impact one way or another on how the aid is counted. What seems clear, though, is that more institutions will be counting need-based aid in some form - and it will probably be counted differently in the future.


The cabinet will consider a broad range of possible changes that could influence the financial aid model, including changing what it means to be a recruited student-athlete or a counter.

So one possible change is - get ready now - to change what it means to "count" as a scholarship athlete. It may not sound like a seismic change, but make no mistake if it does happen it most certainly would be. Do the existing "counter limits" for, say, determining whether you're FCS and FBS in football, still apply? Will the "counter limits" make, in effect, new subdivisions affecting Division I, Division II, Division III and the like? In essence, if you change what it means to be a student-athlete, can you continue to have the NCAA structure as it exists today?

Think about this a second. One of the cabinet's goals (from the article) is to "[attempt] to make sure that everyone who wants and is qualified to pursue higher education has that opportunity" - and that need-based aid isn't as much of the equation for athletes right now as they think it should be. But everything in the NCAA right now is stratified based on those particular limits as to what it means to be a "scholarship athlete".

For example, California (PA) is a Division II school that offers at or below limit of 36 scholarships for football. But what if they have a bunch of football players that qualify for 100% need-based aid? Do they now count above the 36 scholarship limit? What about Division III schools which are all by definition need-based but have students which accept financial aid? If California (PA) has the equivalent of 36 regular scholarships and 36 full need-based aid scholarships, if Penn State chooses to play them would they "count" as a win towards bowl eligibility (since right now a school offering 57 or more equivalencies qualify)?

If they're serious about adding need-based aid to the mix of what it means to "count", one of two things can happen: 1) they will "count", meaning at a bare minimum Division II football will probably cease to exist and Division III football will be in serious disarray, or 2) they won't "count", causing the line to blur even further between FCS and FBS football as more FCS schools will now use need-based aid in addition with their scholarship money to close the gap with FBS schools. Either way it will change everything.

At the very beginning of Ms. Femovich's statements, she says that the Patriot League presidents will decide something in regards to Fordham by December 31st, 2010. But judging by the above article, you also have to wonder if the entire NCAA will be very, very different by that time as well. What's the point of trying to achieve a scholarship limit when what it means to have a scholarship will have been turned upside down?


rich said…
Wow, great article. I understand much more clearly now why I dont understand how this works. Of course I am depressed that merit aid seems more like the search for the Holy Grail. Not likely to happen and not in my lifetime. Thanks Chuck. Now I promise I will shut up about scholarships. I never really enjoyed howling at the moon.
Anonymous said…
A very well researched article. Well done, this should clear it up for most people.

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