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New York Times, Relying On Deception, Undermines FCS Football

No, that wasn't the actual headline from the New York Times on their series on Title IX.

The spashy article from Katie Thomas the Times, with the real title "College Teams, Relying on Deception, Undermine Gender Equity", has this as a teaser: "To produce an appearance of gender equity, colleges have given roster spots to unqualified players, counted male practice players as women and trimmed men’s rosters."

And as a corrolary article, the Times also included a piece by Marjorie Connelly, with another splashy headline: "Few Americans Familiar With Title IX, Though Most Approve of It".

As seems to happen way too often, their one-sided series of articles on the gender-equity law seems to - yes - rely on deception, and key omissions, to make its "case".(more)

Don't get me wrong, I am not against some minimum standards of funding and sponsoring of women's sports.

I enjoy women's athletics. My sister played collegiate basketball. I watch women's basketball. I've gone to games. I've followed Lehigh's women's basketball team for the past three seasons.

I very much see the value that women's sports have had at Lehigh, and I wouldn't want that to change.

But articles like the Times series wouldn't be so noteworthy if they weren't so dangerous.

The first article, the one written by Ms. Connolly that comes with a poll, reports that:

Most Americans say it is very important for boys and girls to have the same opportunities to participate in high school sports, but few are very familiar with Title IX, the federal law that prohibits sex discrimination in federally funded education programs including athletics, according to a recent New York Times/CBS News poll.

Title IX is considered an adequate law by most of those who know something about the legislation. Twenty-two percent regard the law as satisfactory with no change needed, but 47 percent say the law should be more strictly enforced. Five percent say a stronger law should replace the current legislation, and 14 percent say the law is no longer necessary and should be repealed.

It sounds great - until you look into some of the tricks that the polling group has undertaken to prop up one point of view.

The order of the questions posed were as follows:

1) When it comes to playing high school athletics, how important is it for girls to have the same opportunities in their own high school sports as boys?

When posed like that - as you might expect - the majority of respondents said, "yes, it is very or somewhat important".  It's not talking about scholarships, or getting paid to play.  It's all about access.  In their own sports, sure.  Who could argue that they deserve opportunities to participate as well?

For the article, though, Ms. Connelly chose to pluck the two very important words "their own" from the poll - twisting its results to make it sound like they're for 50/50 representation of sports in the fashion that Title IX represents, not "opportunities in their own sports".

Most Americans say it is very important for boys and girls to have the same opportunities to participate in high school sports..

That's a gigantic two words that were removed.

In high school, participation does not only include sports with both women's and men's teams, but also single-sex teams like competitive cheerleading and dance, as well as football and wrestling.

"Their own" sports.  Not necessarily in the way Title IX defines it.  But the article makes it seem that way.

Thus primed, the next questions were then asked.

2) When it comes to high school sports, do you think girls are given less opportunities than boys?

3) What the high schools in your area?

While one can debate the practice of asking a poll question about a personal feeling to a factual statement ("How do you feel about whether Lincoln was shot?"), let's humor the pollsters for a moment.

When asked about the question nationally, 47% of the respondents thought that girls were given the same opportunities as boys. 47% thought girls had fewer opportunities, with 5% responding "I don't know".

Stop and think about that a second.  When thinking about a subject on which they didn't have a lot of knowledge (girls' access to high school sports nationally), 47% thought, OK, some places didn't have the same access.

But when the question was asked about their own school system - the system which they, presumably, had some knowledge - the percentage of "same" shot up to 61%.

The fact that a clear, above the margin of error majority found equal opportunities for girls as well as boys in their own school systems was curiously absent from the article.

Isn't that worthy of mention?  That most of the perceived inequities were in someone else's backyard, not their own?

Instead, the article focused results coming from other dubious polling tactics.

4) How much have you heard or read about Title IX - a lot, some, not much, or nothing at all?

5) IF KNOW TITLE IX: Which of the following come closest to your view about title IX?

1. Law not strong enough
2. Law adequate/should be enforced
3. Law adequate/no change needed
4. Law no longer necessary
5. N/A

You'd think the people whose opinions you'd value the most about Title IX are, well, the ones that have read or heard "a lot" about Title IX.

Of the 1,266 participants, 595, or 47% of them, said they know "nothing at all" about Title IX, disqualifying them from further questions about the subject.

12%, or 151 of them, knew "a lot" about Title IX.

That leaves 520 respondents - all which were asked questions about Title IX - that knew only "some" or "not much" about the subject matter. Roughly speaking, for every one person who knew "a lot" about Title IX, there were two people in the survey that knew "some" or "not much".

Once whittled down to the the 671 respondents - keeping in mind that more than 2/3rds of the respondents only knew, at most, "some" about Title IX - they were asked a question that was designed to come up with a positive view of the law.

When have you ever been asked a question about a law and given as alternatives it's "not strong enough" two choices preceded by "law adequate", or "no longer necessary"?  For that matter, when were you ever asked a question where three of the answers were "yes", one was "no" and the final choice was "N/A"?

The questions were three gradations of "agree" - or reject it altogether. Even I don't reject Title IX altogether. What would I have answered?

What most people do is instead "pick the one in the middle" - in this case, "law adequate/should be enforced." Because people like their laws to be enforced, by and large.  Unsurprisingly, most of the respondents did so.

Looking at the comments thread, I wasn't the only one to pick up on this, either.

Why wasn't a fifth option available with wording as "5. It is adequate but needs changes"? With the options presented, the polled has only two options: either completely agree with it or reject it altogether. There is no middle ground where one can support the goals (non-discrimination on gender basis) but believes that the law needs to be changed to achieve them.

If you hadn't guessed, one of my gigantic pet peeves in the world of journalism and blogging is the existence of polls and how they, supposedly, divine the true will of the American people. In my opinion, polls don't reflect the news, they create the news - and in this case, the pollsters are resorting to the same old deceptive tactics to make it look like Title IX is something that's in demand and much more accepted than it actually is.

*****

If the first article was simply deceptive, the second article by Katie Thomas was actually counterproductive.  In her zeal to paint the schools as the "bad guys", she tries to throw everyone under the bus.

Ever since Congress passed the federal gender-equity law known as Title IX, universities have opened their gyms and athletic fields to millions of women who previously did not have chances to play. But as women have surged into a majority on campus in recent years, many institutions have resorted to subterfuge to make it look as if they are offering more spots to women.

Ms. Thomas goes on to talk about situations of "double-counting" of female athletes on track teams to bolster female compliance numbers. For example, some female athletes on the women's cross-country team were automatically added to fall and spring indoor and outdoor track teams, allowing them to be counted three times.

It's worthy that she called certain schools out on this practice.

Nowhere in the article, however, did it say why the schools needed to do so - the flawed implementation of Title IX.

Title IX has the effect of mandating that schools spend a proportional amount on women's athletics as men's athletics, based on the composition of the student body. It's not as simplistic as "if 57% of the student body is women, 57% of the spending needs to be on women's athletics", but it's close.

Generally speaking, the proportionality tests have fallen firmly on athletic scholarships. If a school offers 500 athletic scholarships for men, they need to offer a proportion of scholarships for women that's in line with the gender ratio.

In practice, schools have been considered "in compliance" with Title IX if their scholarship spending is within 5% of the student body gender ratio, though advocates have been pushing to get closer to the actual percentage.

For sports which have men's and women's equivalents - like basketball - compliance is a snap. Just offer twelve scholarships for men, and twelve for women. Nobody can argue about that.

But male-only sports need to have women's equivalents in order to "offset" them - hence, the explosion in women's cross-country teams.

This has been a large reason why other non-revenue generating sports - like wrestling, men's rugby and men's crew - have been disappearing from campuses across the country.

This reality has caused a lot of headaches in Title IX compliance all over the country - and making some schools to rely on practices that border on fraud.

Nancy Hogshead-Makar, an Olympic swimmer and the senior director of advocacy at the Women’s Sports Foundation, said: “The fraud is disheartening. Intercollegiate athletics are rare educational opportunities, subsidized with our tax dollars, which deliver superior lifelong returns on investment. When an athletic department engineers itself to produce only the appearance of fairness, they flout the law and cheat women.”

The Women's Sports Foundation, itself a Title IX advocacy group, clearly has South Florida in its sights:

The article did not consider one effect of double/ triple counting: Athletic scholarships for women. A low scholarship allotment/ high roster count will prevent a university from being able to provide the total amount of scholarship funds available to men and women on a "substantially proportionate" basis. The University of South Florida’s athletics department, with its 127 duplicated women athletes but just 13 men duplicates, cannot comply with the equal scholarship mandate of Title IX, because only one scholarship can be given to the athlete counted three times. This means that women student-athletes at USF miss out on almost $800,000 in scholarship dollars per year.

Flouting the law? It's Title IX which has caused the impossible goals to be set in the first place - an arbitrary number, let's not forget. Can anyone really say with a straight face that South Florida is actively turning away female athletes that want scholarships so they can triple-count? (Though I guess Ms. Hogshead-Makar can. That's her job.)

If putting South Florida through the ringer was the only purpose of the article, that would be one thing.

But Ms. Thomas seems to strongly hint that cutting football is the solution that some schools should entertain.

Yet football, the pride of many universities and a draw for alumni, rarely faces cuts. The average Division I football team went from 95 players 30 years ago to 111 players in 2009-10.

“Football is the elephant in the whole thing,” former Syracuse AD Jake Crouthamel said. “That’s the monster.”

First of all, her quotation of NCAA statistics are misleading and false. While participation in football is up since 1981, the number of scholarships have remained the same for the last thirty years - 85 full scholarships for FBS, and 63 equivalent scholarships in FCS.

Sure, there are more walk-ons trying their hands at football, but all those players are paying for the opportunity to play. That's a lot different than a school paying for 111 players to play, which is what Ms. Thomas implies.

Second, while few FBS football programs are facing the axe, in the cost-containment subdivision of FCS the opposite is true.

Ive seen ten schools in the Northeast alone, including two in the last two years, have dropped football in the last fifteen years. An entire non-scholarship football conference, the MAAC, disbanded, which led to the end of programs at Iona and LaSalle. Fairfield, St. Peter's, Canisius, and Siena are four more schools that have closed up shop.

Curiously, this is touched upon in one of the articles.

Jodi Gill, an administrator at Duquesne University, said colleges used Title IX as a justification for reducing financial support.

Ms. Gill, 36, from Pittsburgh, added: “I think universities are cutting funding for sports that aren’t generating funds and instead of owning up to that fact, they are hiding behind the law so people get bitter about Title IX. It’s just an excuse.”

In the case of non-scholarship football at Fairfield, Canisius and Siena, that was undeniably true. Not a single player on those teams received a dime of scholarship money, and as a result did not contribute one penny to their Title IX compliance when their programs were dropped.

Unfortunately, articles like this - vaguely written, misleading or ignorant about the basic facts of men's scholarships in football, which pillory South Florida and then by extension imply "everyone's doing it" - are hugely detrimental to football at the FCS level.

At most places, and especially at the FCS level, football is a positive experience that brings alumni and students together to rally around their school. Becoming a pipeline to the NFL isn't its purpose. It's to allow kids to compete, get an education, and do something they enjoy for four years. And for a precious few, it means a shot at playing professionally.

Many, many kids at the FCS level pay for the privilege of playing.

I'd like to ask these people: at the FCS level, what, exactly, is so foul about having a football team? Almost every one of these athletic departments do not make money. There are no bags of money at the end of the rainbow: just a true national champion determined on the field, some fierce local rivalries, and a whole lot of young men that get an education paid for by the school.

While South Florida will find some other way around the rules, a school like Northeastern will decide that it's not worth the hassle and drop the program - denying a bunch of kids the opportunity to compete.

That concern, I have to believe, would fall on Ms. Thomas deaf ears. And that's the problem with all this talk about Title IX in any context. It's the South Florida's that get the bad press, but it's the students and alumni of Northeastern who no longer have football on Saturdays in the fall.

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