NCAA scholarship limits and the Title IX numbers game

ESPN The Magazine’s Peter Keating laid out a case on espnW this week for changes in NCAA scholarship allocation limits that he asserts is “the silent enemy” of men’s non-revenue sports.

There are some interesting numbers here, and he does make a good point in suggesting that raising scholarship limits in non-revenue sports “may be the only way to amplify their voices in the ongoing debates over how to reform college athletics.”

But for the most part, this is another example of glorified Title IX stenography from espnW, which has already parroted amply from its official benefactor, the Women’s Sports Foundation, on the supposed “myths” of Title IX that come from critics of the law’s sports regulations.

Previously, I pulled apart an espnW “expose” called “The Glass Wall,” about the alleged grim prospects of women coaches, due mainly to sexism and homophobia. I called it a crock then, and it’s still a crock and always will be.

Keating is another experienced journalist put on espnW’s massive Title IX initiative, and it’s glaring how eagerly he dismisses anyone who disagrees with the Title IX establishment. Throw out a bunch of numbers and it’s hard to cut through the stale dogma he’s serving up.

Keating also makes sure to point out that critics of the Title IX regulations — whom he incorrectly assumes are all “opponents” of the statute — are “scapegoating the law” when men’s teams are cut.

The American Sports Council, which is critical of the Title IX proportionality provision, protested furiously on its Saving Sports blog, complaining that espnW didn’t provide the organization an opportunity to respond.

I won’t dig into those arguments here; ASC spokesman Jim McCarthy gets right to the point. But that rejection shouldn’t be surprising, given espnW’s zeal to perpetuate a narrative about Title IX that allows for no scrutiny of the sports regulations, more than 30 years after they were enacted and on the 40th anniversary of the passage of the law.

While Keating is described as an investigative reporter who also covers “statistical subjects,” much of the numbers-based argument he makes is a smokescreen. I don’t see how reallocating more scholarships to non-revenue sports will have any impact on college athletics reform; does he notice how much more college football is steering the ship with constant conference realignment and even richer television contracts? The men’s non-revenue side will continue to be vulnerable to cuts because of the way Title IX is being enforced in the courts.

Indeed, the biggest omission from Keating’s analysis is that scholarship reallocations, even the flexible options he proposes, essentially don’t address the Title IX numbers game that schools must play to avoid being sued.

For getting right with proportionality isn’t about how many men or women are on scholarship, or whether football, an all-male sport with big rosters, could stand to get another haircut to help out lacrosse and tennis and baseball.

When it comes to the Title IX sports regulation that matters above all, it’s about whether the female athletic headcount — the raw sports participation number of that “underrepresented” gender — closely matches the female undergraduate student enrollment percentage at a given school.

That’s how the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights compiles its data, and what prompts litigious organizations like the Women’s Sports Foundation and the Women’s National Law Center to threaten and file lawsuits.

If Keating and his espnW editors had been the least bit interested in a truly dispassionate approach to this subject, it might have made for some more interesting reading than another predictable complaint about the presumed  gluttony of football.

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