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Adding men's varsity programs tougher, but not impossible, thanks to Title IX

Schools have been citing Title IX as a reason to funnel more resources into revenue sports

Source: "Administration of Intercollegiate Athletics" by Erianne Weight and Robert Zullo.

Source: "Administration of Intercollegiate Athletics" by Erianne Weight and Robert Zullo.

If a male club team wants to go varsity at UNC, Title IX does not help them.

“As it stands now, we are not able to become varsity,” said Fred Porter, a senior member on the UNC men’s crew team.

Men's crew is technically a club sport despite the facts that they compete against other varsity teams, have two paid coaches and practice eight times a week — often twice a day. 

“It’s not an issue of us not wanting to become varsity,” Porter said. “It would just take a long time of working with the school. It’s not like there’s a petition we can just sign.”

At UNC, there are four varsity women's teams without a male equivalent — crew, field hockey, volleyball and gymnastics. There are two men's varsity sports, football and wrestling, that do not have female equivalents. Football gives the most athletic scholarships of any team at UNC by a double-digit margin. 

Almost 60 percent of UNC's undergraduates are women, making the chances of adding another men’s sport low because Title IX compels universities to create more opportunities for women, who are considered underrepresented, in order to achieve gender equality.

“Since our undergraduate student body is primarily women, men are already overrepresented for participation opportunities,” said Barbara Osborne, a UNC exercise and sports science professor specializing in sports law. “Title IX is not measured on a sport by sport comparison. You’re comparing all of the opportunities men have to participate against all of the opportunities women have.”

While it would be difficult for UNC to add another men’s sport, athletic departments at other universities have chosen to goes as far as cutting money for men’s sports in order to make funding more proportional between men's and women's athletics.

When the University of Richmond added men’s lacrosse in 2012, they cut men’s soccer and track, citing Title IX as a reason. In 2013, Temple University announced it would cut five men's sports and two women's sports. A press release from Temple's Athletic Department stated that Title IX was a key factor.

“That was never the intent of the law,” said UNC exercise and sports science professor Erianne Weight. “It was always designed to increase opportunities of the underrepresented sex.”

But schools that are low on funding choose to cut non-revenue men’s sports and point to improved statistics on the gender distribution of their athletes.

“That’s why we’ve seen a lot of administrators say ‘I’ve cut this sport because of Title IX,’” Weight said. “In the schools that cite financial reasons for limiting male opportunities, the reality is that they are funneling large percentage of their budget into football and men’s basketball.”

Weight said making funding proportional is not the only way to comply with Title IX’s rules regarding equal participation in athletics — a fact that many administrators and athletics officials are still unaware of in 2016.

“We asked administrators and coaches of NCAA schools how knowledgeable they were about Title IX requirements. If we scored this like a test, the vast majority of coaches would fail,” Weight said. “For the most part, those working in athletics don’t understand the law very well.”

In her textbook on athletic administration, Weight wrote that schools can also comply with the participation rules by demonstrating a history of expanding opportunities for women, or showing full accommodation of the athletic interest and ability of female athletes.

For example, administrators can survey female club teams to see if they want the opportunity to participate at the varsity level. If the university makes an effort to act on that feedback the Title IX requirement is fulfilled.

According to the NCAA's gender equity policy, “Generally speaking, statistics alone are not enough to determine if an institution is in compliance with Title IX.”

But Weight stressed that UNC has done a good job maintaining both robust men’s and women’s athletic programs. The University currently sponsors 12 men’s varsity sports and 14 women’s varsity sports.

According to the Equal Opportunity and Compliance Office, no reports of policy violations have been filed against the UNC Athletics department in recent history. This year, the Title IX Compliance Coordinator set up a review committee to create a new five-year plan to enhance gender equality in athletics and teach students and staff about the law.

“(Our) staff work closely with the athletics department to follow regulations and guidance issued by the Office for Civil Rights on gender equity in sports,” said Equal Opportunity and Compliance Office spokesperson Hilary Delbridge in an email.

Porter, the UNC senior on the club men's crew team, said his team has not seriously pursued becoming a varsity sport because they wouldn’t want to take funding from an existing program.

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While Porter said the team is very proud to be a club sport, especially considering all their accomplishments, becoming a varsity program would greatly reduce team members’ out of pocket expenses and need to fundraise.

“We wouldn’t say no to the money,” Porter said.