After announcing the cuts of 3 sports last week, NCAA Division II Sonoma State University says that it will expand roster opportunities in its remaining 7 women’s sports to maintain its compliance with Title IX.
- Read More: Sonoma State Cuts Women’s Water Polo Program
According to the school’s Equity in Athletics Data Analysis (EADA) profile, prior to the cutting of its men’s and women’s tennis teams and its women’s water polo program, Sonoma State allocated about 59.9% of its athletics roster spots to women’s teams. With 61.6% of the student-body being female, this essentially put the school in line with the proportionality test of prong 1 of the Title IX equity examination.
EADA is a database maintained by the U.S. Department of Education to track data about gender equity in sports participation in the United States.
After the cut of the 3 programs, including 7 roster spots in women’s tennis, 10 roster spots in men’s tennis, and 20 roster spots in water polo, that drops their roster spot rate to 57.8%.
According to triple Olympic gold medalist swimmer Nancy Hogshead-Makar, who is now an attorney that does much of her work fighting for equality in sports, the key in ‘close enough’ to proportionality is whether or not the school could add a new team of the underrepresented gender and still be under the gender proportionality requirement.
Besides adding programs, schools have the option to increase roster spots in other programs to close the gap, and that’s the route that Sonoma State co-interim athletics director Stan Nosek says the school will take.
“The department will be expanding participation opportunities in 2020-2021 across female sports,” Nosek told SwimSwam on Friday. “We have seven remaining women teams and are now working to identify where this increased participation will occur.”
Adding roster spots in other sports without adjusting scholarship offerings can mean increased profits for a university. The additional costs of those new roster spots are minimal (equipment, maybe some travel but not necessarily), but those roster spots will pay full tuition.
A university spokesperson says that the school remains committed to gender equity in its collegiate athletics programs:
“Sonoma State University is committed to gender equity within its intercollegiate athletics program. After the discontinuation of the tennis and water polo programs, SSU will still be sponsoring four men’s sports and seven women’s sports. We are confident that the department will continue to comply with Title IX, maintaining equity in both participation opportunities and resource allocation.”
At another university that recently cut an aquatics program, Eastern Michigan, there has been an ongoing legal battle about the school’s compliance with Title IX. In the spring of 2018, the school eliminated four sports: men’s swimming & diving, women’s softball, wrestling, and women’s tennis. At the time, they cut 58 male student-athletes and 25 female student-athletes as part of cost-cutting measures that hit the entire university.
The two cut women’s teams, tennis and softball, sued the university, saying that the university was not providing effective accommodation to female student athletes. The women’s tennis team was quickly reinstated.
After originally winning in court, creating a situation where the school was given less than 2 months to hire a softball coach and resume operations, the school won an emergency stay to explore other ways to remain in compliance with Title IX, including exploring replacing softball with a women’s lacrosse team.
You can read more about the 3-prong test of a Title IX lawsuit here from Shubin law firm. In short, prong 1 requires schools to maintain proportionality in opportunities and funding that are consistent with a school’s proportion of enrollment; prong 2 allows a school to show that it is expanding opportunities for female students as a possible route for compliance; and prong 3 allows a school to show that they are accommodating interests of the student body. At the collegiate level, prong 1 receives the most focus, though at the high school level prongs 2 and 3 (the latter especially) sometimes make more sense.
Sonoma State is an NCAA Division II University with 7,871 full-time undergraduates: 3,022 men and 4,849 women. It is a member of the California State University system, and has no football team.