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Article questions athletics actions

USF’s women’s running teams may see fewer names on their rosters next season – a result of policy changes that came after an article printed in the New York Times.

The article, which was titled “College teams, relying on deception, undermine gender equity,” ran in Tuesday’s edition of the Times and claimed that some universities, including USF, have begun “manipulating” the number of females on their athletic rosters to comply with Title IX – a federal gender-equity law that states, “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be … subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal assistance.”

According to the article, USF “expand(ed) the women’s running teams” to comply with the law when told by a gender-equity consultant in 2002 that the number of female athletes was not proportional to the overall female enrollment – five years after USF added its football program and introduced more than 100 male athletes to the program.

This expansion was achieved in part by listing members of one of the three women’s running teams – indoor track, outdoor track and cross-country – on all three rosters, regardless of whether they actually participated on all three teams, the article stated. This increased the women’s cross-country team to 75 members in 2008 from 21 members in 2002, according to the article, and during the 2009-10 academic year, only 28 of 71 cross-country members on the roster actually competed in a race.

Bill McGillis, USF’s executive associate athletic director, said the women’s cross-country team is indeed one of the largest in the country, yet even without listing the members on multiple rosters USF was and is in compliance with Title IX. Even so, USF will no longer add members of one team to all three rosters unless they indicate that they want to join the teams, he said.

“The standard that institutions are expected to adhere to is that the percentage of male and female athletes reflects a similar percentage of male and female students at an institution,” he said. “We’re in the second best position of any institution in the state that has Division I athletics. Only the University of Miami has a better percentage.”

McGillis said a 2009-10 Equity in Data Analysis report showed that the percentage of the USF undergraduate population that was female was 56.69 percent, while the female percentage of total athletes – excluding those who were listed as members of the cross-country team but never participated – was 55.91 percent.

“It’s nearly identical,” he said. “(Athletics is) within .78 percent – less than 1 percent – of the same percentage as the student body … Even when you eliminate the players in question, we’re still in conformity.”

To achieve this balance of male and female players, McGillis said many institutions, including USF, practice “roster management” – a cap is placed on men’s athletic rosters and a minimum threshold is placed on women’s rosters to ensure “equitable” opportunities.

McGillis, who spoke on behalf of “all USF coaching and administrative staff,” said USF has “historically” counted all female track and field participants, except discus throwers and shot putters, on all three rosters because they were “eligible to participate on all three teams,” which practice together and are led by one coaching staff. He said he did not know whether this practice began when the football team was created in 1997.

According to NCAA regulations, a student can be counted on multiple rosters if they participate in multiple sports, yet not all women’s runners even knew that they were listed as members of other teams, the Times reported. Likewise, members of the men’s running teams are only listed on rosters for teams they participate in because, “We chose to do it with women. We chose not to do it with men,” McGillis said.

The Times also quoted Sara Till, a 2009 USF graduate who said she quit the track team her sophomore year and even returned her track scholarship yet was listed on all three rosters through her junior year. She also said she was promised new running shoes and priority registration by a former assistant coach if she stayed on the three track rosters.

McGillis, who said he didn’t know the specifics of Till’s situation, said all athletes receive shoes as part of their uniform and many have priority registration.

“But if how it was described is accurate, that would be very disappointing and would not be acceptable to us administratively,” he said.

“Moving forward, there’s a better way,” McGillis said. “Moving forward, we’re only going to include those who indicate that they fully intend to participate in cross-country. We’ll establish a mechanism at the end of this year for how we’re going to receive that information from student-athletes, but I would anticipate going into next fall we’ll probably have a check-off list where our student-athletes indicate that they want to be included.”

The rosters for next year’s female running teams, which all have different seasons, will reflect the changes, McGillis said. He said he expects it will result in a decreased percentage of female athletes, yet the decrease will not change the University’s standing with Title IX nor decrease the number of available positions on men’s teams.

Though he said he was not sure of the penalties for not complying with Title IX, “athletics and a USF Title IX committee will continue to take a close look at the opportunities we’re providing our young men and women.”

“The real story for the University of South Florida,” McGillis said, “is that we have an athletics program that has been providing tremendous opportunities for young women and young men, and they’ve been provided while adhering to both the letter of the legislation and the spirit of it.”