Title IX is still on Candice Storey Lee’s mind, and Vanderbilt’s athletic director thinks that’s how it should be for any administrator running college programs.
“I hope it’s part of our DNA and shows in how we make day-to-day decisions,” Lee said.
By most accounts, this is the case.
It was certainly at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. At times, Title IX was at the forefront of DA decisions. When schools considered what programs could be cut to save money as the spread of the virus shut down the sports world in 2020, the law banning gender discrimination was a major factor.
It was an example of how Title IX guarantees gender equity in education and prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any education program or activity receiving federal funds, such as the student financial aid.
“The law is supposed to shape decision-making and behavior, and it did,” Virginia athletic director Carla Williams said. “I think it will continue like this.”
Conformity can be measured in several ways, including whether the gender distribution of the overall program is proportional to that of all students. The aim is to guarantee equal participation opportunities for men and women as well as access to scholarships.
But the shutdown has created financial pressures, particularly for Division I programs with lost revenue from the canceled NCAA men’s basketball tournament and uncertainty over whether football – which largely funds the Olympic and less publicized sports programs – would continue.
Schools that chose discounts had to consider Title IX compliance numbers for the remaining programs. And ultimately, the cuts affected more men’s (47) than women’s (22) programs in Division I, according to data from The Associated Press and wrestling site Mat Talk Almanac.
“I would imagine it would have been a lot harder for anyone to consider cutting women’s sports,” South Florida athletic director Michael Kelly said. “Unless, if they already had a preponderance or excess of female sports and female student-athletes and student experience, then maybe they did. But I don’t know too many people who are in this situation.
East Carolina athletic director Jon Gilbert had to deal with the tough decision.
The American Athletic Conference member Pirates announced cuts to four programs — men’s and women’s swimming and diving, men’s and women’s tennis — in May 2020, while citing a budget shortfall of $4.9 million. The school then announced plans in January 2021 to restart women’s programs while paying more than $189,000 in a settlement to avoid a gender equity lawsuit.
“Title IX is certainly hugely important for all that it stands for, and it’s definitely a factor when you’re going that route,” Gilbert said.
“As I mentioned before, it was an excruciating decision that still bothers me a lot on the human side. It’s not something I want to go through or our student-athletes or our department go through again. But financial difficulties are a reality and they continue to be a reality today.
Making the numbers work can be more difficult in schools with higher female-to-male ratios in the student body.
In Portland, in the West Coast Conference, where women make up about 60% of students, athletic director Scott Leykam said sports such as rowing often recruit visitors to campus. It was difficult when the campus closed amid the pandemic, although the pilots avoided cutting any of their 16 athletic programs.
“The other thing that we had to make decisions on…when everybody got that extra year of COVID redshirts, (was) making sure we balanced that male-to-female ratio,” Leykam said.
Financial challenges will always be an aspect of varsity sports, but more and more schools are finding ways to fund and expand women’s programs.
North Carolina’s efforts include the ongoing FORevHER Tar Heels campaign launched in 2019 to support 15 women’s programs with facility upgrades, scholarship needs, and mentorship programs. The campaign continues at the Atlantic Coast Conference school, which fielded women’s varsity teams in 1971 before the implementation of Title IX, even after surpassing a $100 million goal.
“I will say that (the campaign) of $100 million just for women’s athletics is something we’ve never focused on,” said UNC director of athletics Bubba Cunningham, who oversees a 28-sport program with 41 of the 57 upcoming women’s national team championships. sports. “And that’s a big goal of this campaign.”
At Vanderbilt, Lee’s department recently announced that the Southeastern Conference school would add women’s volleyball for the 2025-26 season, a resurrection for a program that was discontinued after 1979-80.
And in South Florida, the AAC program announced additions of women’s lacrosse for 2023-24 and women’s beach volleyball for 2024-25. That would push the Bulls to 12 women’s sports and 21 overall.
Kelly also points to an approximately $1.5 million summer project to renovate batting cages and pitching areas for baseball and softball, driven by a joint courier fundraiser emphasizing fair treatment. .
“I bet you 25 or 30 years ago, if I had a donor who only wanted to support, let’s just say baseball, the softball one would have fallen and lagged,” Kelly said, adding, ” But because our staff are educating themselves, becoming more aware of this as a whole, it has become a common project.
“In the end it worked very well because (the donors) understood that and I hope it will be an example for other projects that we do in the future.”
For Lee, in her second year as the first female AD in the SEC, it’s an example of what she hopes will be the norm for athletic administrators.
“I hope that over the next 50 years, this commitment to gender equity will really be embedded in who we are, in what we do every day,” Lee said.
“You hope that continues to create more opportunities at all levels, and not just for athletes but also for coaches, for administrators, for leadership, for CEOs,” she said. “I would just like to see it where we almost take it for granted, because it becomes a clear part of who we are.”
AP Sports Writers Hank Kurz in Charlottesville, Virginia; Anne M. Peterson in Portland, Ore.; and Teresa M. Walker in Nashville, Tennessee; contributed to this report.
Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/aaronbeardap