On June 23, 1972, U.S. lawmakers passed Title IX, a landmark measure that banned sexual discrimination in education and fostered unparalleled growth in women’s athletics around the country over the next five decades.
Fifty years later, though, a USA TODAY investigation found many of the nation’s Division I colleges and universities manipulate athletic rosters to create the illusion of compliance and consistently devote fewer resources to women’s sports than men’s.
The University of Louisville and the University of Kentucky are among the offenders listed in the USA TODAY report, which said the two schools combined to add 35 women’s roster spots through manipulation to appear more balanced than they are.
In total, USA TODAY determined that 107 public schools in the Football Bowl Subdivision, Division I’s highest tier, added more than 3,600 additional participation “opportunities” for female athletes without adding a single new women’s team.
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An analysis of NCAA revenue and expense reports for the 2018-19 and 2019-20 seasons, meanwhile, found for every dollar schools spent on travel, equipment and recruiting for men’s teams, they spent an average of just 71 cents on those categories for women’s teams.
Over two seasons, that added up to $125 million more towards men programs in basketball, baseball and softball, golf, tennis, soccer and swimming and diving than women’s programs had received.
“While we have come a long way in the 50 years since the passage of Title IX in terms of creating more opportunities for women in higher education athletics, all school communities need to complete the task to fulfill the law’s promise,” Catherine Lhamon, the assistant secretary of the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, told USA TODAY.
Here’s a closer look at the report and its findings at both U of L and UK.
Behind the numbers
USA TODAY’s comprehensive roster analysis centered on 107 public schools in the Football Bowl Subdivision during the 2018-19 school year, the last full year before the COVID-19 pandemic upended the college sports landscape.
The news organization downloaded the athletic participation numbers schools report annually to the U.S. Department of Education under the Equity in Athletics Disclosure Act and compared them against four different data sources:
- NCAA revenue-and-expense reports that break down expenses and athletic participation by team and gender;
- team rosters on athletic department websites;
- internal athletic department rosters called “squad lists;”
- and reams of competition results.
Title IX investigation:Methodology behind USA TODAY’s analysis of rosters
USA TODAY journalists also filed hundreds of public records requests for schools’ squad lists and NCAA reports, wrote computer programs to collect online rosters and stats, and interviewed 51 Title IX experts and attorneys, lawmakers, athletes, coaches and athletic department administrators.
For its analysis of athletic spending, USA TODAY focused solely on sports with comparable men’s and women’s squads. Had the analysis covered all teams, including football, the overall disparity would be greater: Altogether, schools spent just over twice as much on men than women on travel, equipment and recruiting combined — $1.16 billion compared with $576 million.
Louisville Athletics’ Title IX compliance
Manipulation led to 26 women’s roster spots being added at Louisville, USA TODAY’s data analysis found.
Of those spots, 11 were reportedly added by double- and triple-counting track and cross-country athletes, according to the report, and 15 were added by counting male practice players as females.
Louisville’s numbers weren’t the highest cited in USA TODAY’s investigation nor the lowest. Alabama topped the list with 106 roster spots added, while Central Michigan and Appalachian State tied with eight spots added apiece for the lowest reported total.
Twenty-one schools, including Western Kentucky University, were not found to have added roster spots.
Through its investigation and analysis, USA TODAY found double- and triple-counting to be one of the most widely used and efficient ways to boost a school’s reported number of female athletes without adding new recruits or new teams. And it is allowed under current rules.
The federal government has said schools can count athletes more than once if they compete on more than one team. Rather than counting heads, schools tally the number of “participation opportunities” (i.e., roster spots) they fill each year.
Inviting male students to scrimmage with women’s teams is also a common practice around the country, especially in basketball, according to USA TODAY’s report.
The result, however, is a misleading picture that makes schools look better than they are at providing women with equitable playing opportunities. For example: USA TODAY found that Michigan reported 29 practice players on its women’s basketball team, more than double its number of actual players on the roster.
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Louisville men’s and women’s basketball served as a case study for USA TODAY’s exploration of the financial disparities that exist between genders.
The data analysis found U of L Athletics spent nearly $2 million more on the men’s team than the women’s team across three spending categories (equipment, recruiting and travel) during the 2018-19 and 2019-20 seasons.
On equipment, Louisville spent 13 times more on its men’s basketball players than members of its women’s team — $327,000 compared to $24,000. That included more than $2,500 on socks alone and a single purchase at a local sporting goods store for $9,705 worth of clothing like shorts, tights and pullovers.
The men also outspent the women in terms of recruiting ($758,000 to $433,000) and travel ($2.6 million to $1.4 million).
When asked by USA TODAY about the spending discrepancy, athletic director Josh Heird blamed the situation, in part, on restricted donor funds that pour money into men’s athletics programs but not women’s.
“I think that’s one of the hardest parts of college athletics as a whole,” said Heird, who was still operating in an interim role when contacted by USA TODAY. “Over the years, football, men’s basketball tend to garner more support. There’s just more donors that want to be associated with those programs.”
Women’s basketball coach Jeff Walz, who has built the Cardinals into one of the most consistently successful programs nationally over the past decade, took some personal responsibility for the spending gap at Louisville.
A self-described penny pincher whose program takes “great pride in not wasting,” Walz said he decided to fly commercial in 2021 for a trip out West during the Thanksgiving holiday, even though his team always charters to conference games.
“I could have requested to charter that trip, but I am sitting here going, ‘So I can take a Southwest flight and go from Louisville to Midway, direct to Seattle, for $220 a ticket. Or I can ask to spend $180,000. To me, you can’t justify that,” Walz told USA TODAY. “So we just flew commercial. It was not a problem.”
Even if coaches and players say they’re getting “enough,” that doesn’t satisfy Title IX compliance, said Neena Chaudhry, general counsel for the National Women’s Law Center. The law recognizes only numbers, not feelings.
“You have to keep in mind that for decades now, women have been socialized, if you will, and taught that they should just accept whatever they get,” Chaudhry told USA TODAY. “You talk to so many women who are just so grateful to play at all. So I think that you can’t analyze those kinds of responses, which I totally understand, apart from the culture in which it all exists.”
And in any case, the extra funds USA TODAY found had gone towards the men’s program didn’t translate to more wins. Louisville’s men’s basketball team combined to go 44-21 during that two-year stretch, while the women’s team went 60-8, including a run to the Elite Eight round of the 2019 NCAA Tournament.
Kentucky Athletics’ Title IX compliance
Manipulation led to nine women’s roster spots being added at Kentucky, USA TODAY’s data analysis found. All of those spots were reportedly created by double- and triple-counting track and cross-country athletes, which assistant athletic director Tony Neely noted is allowed under current rules.
“The University complies with Title IX and the Equity in Athletics Disclosure Act,” Neely told the Courier Journal in a statement. “As the USA TODAY article explicitly acknowledges, the U.S. Department of Education permits a student-athlete, male or female, who participates in multiple sports to be counted multiple times.”
In September 2019, two Kentucky students sued the university, its board of trustees, athletic director Mitch Barnhart and President Eli Capilouto over claims that UK had to add roughly 183 women to its athletics programs to comply with Title IX.
The students, then-senior Elizabeth Niblock and then-junior Meredith Newman, asked the court to require the university to add more varsity-level opportunities for women and to increase the financial assistance it affords women athletes, in addition to unspecified monetary damages.
Title IX at UK:Two students sue University of Kentucky for failing to offer enough women’s sports
“They have had since 1972 to do better than 183 women out of compliance,” Jill Zwagerman, a Des Moines-based lawyer representing the plaintiffs, told the Courier Journal in September 2019. “The University of Kentucky can do better. The University of Kentucky must do better.”
At the time of the lawsuit’s filing, UK argued its 22 sports offer “the broadest based athletics program in the Southeastern Conference.”
“Based on our surveys of our students, the current sports offerings fully accommodate the interests and abilities of our undergraduate students,” spokesman Jay Blanton said.
Zwagerman, however, argued student-athletes were “denied at every turn” when they repeatedly tried to go through the university’s chain of command to establish more women’s sports, such as lacrosse and field hockey teams.
“I am very, very grateful for my experience here at the University of Kentucky,” Niblock said in September 2019. “However, I cannot help but think how enriched my experience would have been if I had the privilege of playing lacrosse at this collegiate level here.”
The two parties will present their cases before a judge when the lawsuit goes to trial on Aug. 16 in Lexington, Kentucky.
Nearly two years after Niblock and Newman sued UK, the university in September 2021 added its 23rd women’s varsity sport: STUNT, which pits two teams against each other with a focus on the technical and athletic aspects of cheerleading.
According to UK Athletics, Kentucky was one of 56 universities, including NCAA and NAIA varsity and club teams, to sponsor STUNT for the 2022 season, and nine more schools are committed to begin in 2023.