Ron Neugent, a former swimmer at the University of Kansas and member of the 1980 Olympic team, has filed a complaint against his alma mater with regard to their compliance with Title IX regulations.
Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 was originally intended to give women an equal opportunity to compete in intercollegiate athletics as men receive. At the time, the NCAA did not even sponsor women’s athletics.
The biggest challenges to Title IX throughout its history have come from those who disagree with the substance of the ruling. Most significantly, many fans argue that requiring the relatively large number of scholarships required by football to be offset by women’s sports is unfair considering that football is probably the only sport that almost universally covers its own costs through ticket sales, merchandising, television rights, and donations.
Neugent, however, believes that the University of Kansas athletics program is not applying the law to protect the underrepresented group. And the kicker is that in this instance, the underrepresented group is men.
In 2007-2008, Kansas had 51 fewer male athletes than female athletes, amounting to about 4% fewer male athletes, despite having a student body made up of essentially equal numbers of males and females. Neugent hopes that he can use this fact to force Kansas to add men’s swimming and tennis teams.
Kansas’ men’s swimming team was cut in 2001, but lived on as a club program with no scholarships. Chacour Koop, who swam on Kansas’ club team his freshman year before transferring to Eastern Illinois University to join their varsity squad, believes that a club team is not sufficient to encourage top level performance from the athletes.
“Your times and your abilities aren’t going to improve much” when swimming and competing only on the club level, Koop said. “Plus, team spirit and school spirit are much more visible.”
The Legal Basis
There are 3 benchmarks for a University to prove that it is Title IX compliant. A University is typically able to prove their compliance if they meet any 1 of the 3 requirements.
- A university may demonstrate it is providing athletic opportunities for men and women at a rate substantially proportional to the enrollment rates of men and women.
- A school may show a continuing practice of program expansion for an under-represented gender.
- A school can demonstrate that the interest and abilities of the under-represented gender are being fully accommodated.
In Neugent’s case, he claims that none of these benchmarks are being met.
The fact that there are 4% fewer male athletes at Kansas when the makeup of the student body is split almost right down the middle means that the Men are being underrepresented in their athletic opportunities, according to Neugent. This argument applies to the first bulletpoint. Although 4% does not seem like a significant difference, Erin Buzuvis, who studies Title IX issues at Western New England College, says that 4% may be enough. She says that disparities of nearly 5% have been called non-compliant before, especially in large universities like Kansas, which has an enrollment of 20,828 (according to the Princeton Review).
As to the second point, Neugent says that since no men’s program has been added since they first fielded a golf team 73 years ago, that there is no effort being made to expand programs for the underrepresented gender.
Buzuvis claims that this may be the hardest test for Neugent to disprove, because Kansas’ athletics department may be able to show that it has expanded opportunities for men without adding more sports.
The third will be the easiest for Neugent to show. Basically to prove this, he has to show that the underrepresented gender, men, do in fact have an interest in adding more opportunities. This is to prevent a situation where a university is forced to add more sports for one gender or the other without the interest to fill those spots. Neugent took care of this issue when he registered a petition with the Kansas athletic department that was signed by 30 students interested in joining a men’s varsity swim team.
Ron Neugent filed the case on September 25th, 2009 with the federal Department of Education’ Office of Civil Rights, which has opened an investigation into the matter.
For his part, Jim Marchiony, Kansas’ associate athletic director would not address any specific issue of the case, but said that they employ a Title IX consultant who has not raised any issues with Kansas’ compliance. Marchiony and other officials plan on meeting with the Office of Civil Rights in the coming weeks to discuss the matter.
In response to his critics who claim that Marchiony is just bitter about his former team being cut, he said “if our state university is not compliant with that law, it’s not right. If this had been reversed, and females had been discriminated against at KU, I would feel the same way and taken just as strong a stance as I have here.”
Interestingly, Neugent has been very outspoken against athletic departments dropping men’s swimming, including trying to prove a correlation between dropping men’s swimming and a drop in a team’s standing in the Director’s Cup. The Director’s Cup is a ranking that attempts to rank the overall quality of colleges’ athletics programs.
Whether or not this case will be successful is very hard to predict. Buzuvis said she has never heard of any complaint quite like this one, and thus it is hard to predict the outcome.