How to Solve College Sports’ Gender Discrimination Problem

Today’s guest columnist is Pamela Seidenman, founder and executive director of Accelerate Equity.

Most people believe that women’s college sports deserve fair treatment. But they aren’t getting it—and it’s not even close. As reported in Sportico, the U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO) just released a report on college sports that found that 93% of all colleges don’t give women proportional opportunities to play sports, one of the goals of Title IX. It also found that the Department of Education, which is responsible for ensuring that schools treat men and women equally and comply with Title IX, is falling down on the job. While these problems are long-standing, and threaten to become worse due to revenue sharing, there are some new solutions.

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How big of a deal is this? Women had more than 300,000 opportunities to play college sports (spots on teams across the NCAA, NAIA and other sanctioning bodies) in 2021-22. If they had opportunities proportional to their enrollment, they would have had more than 500,000 spots on teams. Bottom line, more than 200,000 women athletes missed out on the chance to play intercollegiate athletics that academic year. Also, there would have been millions more in athletic scholarships if women had gotten a fair share of spots on teams. This has a huge impact on who can afford to go to college, which in turn, impacts lifelong health and earnings.

The Department of Education’s lack of enforcement explains why so many colleges completely disregard the law with no consequences—unless students get fed up and sue.

But there is another reason for this ongoing discrimination, and this one is fixable. Very few are aware of the scale and prevalence of the inequities. Every year, colleges are required to report to the Department of Education on athletic participation and spending, broken down by gender. This data is publicly available—in a spreadsheet that is over 500 columns wide. That’s not exactly user-friendly. The result is that there has been no transparency into how any college is treating its women athletes. In fact, hundreds of colleges report that they are not in Title IX compliance, and nothing happens.

When I realized that the lack of transparency was a huge barrier to achieving fair treatment for women athletes, I created a Gender Equity Dashboard using the data that colleges report to the Department of Education. The Dashboard makes it easy to understand that treatment on an individual college level. Are women getting a fair share of spots on teams and athletic scholarships? How does spending on recruiting and overall spending on men’s and women’s sports compare? The Dashboard lets you quickly find the answers for any college. It also explains how Title IX works and what actions anyone can take to help women athletes get the equality they deserve.

Fans, students, athletes and alumni can do what the government hasn’t done. The popularity of women’s sports, growing clout of the women’s sports industry and transparency that the Dashboard brings, make this the moment when Title IX’s promise of equity can be realized. Yes, there are other complex issues in college athletics. But this issue is as deserving of oxygen as conversations about revenue sharing, NIL and collectives. Moreover, it is intertwined. Pressures on athletic budgets due to revenue sharing further threaten women’s sports and the chance to play college sports opens up NIL financial opportunities.

I encourage everyone to spread the word that there are still huge inequities in women’s college sports. Share data from the Gender Equity Dashboard. Reach out to your college if they could do better and let them know that this is an important issue to you. If your college is doing a great job, thank them and let them know you care. The alternative? Turning our backs on hundreds of thousands of young women and letting 50-plus years of sex discrimination continue unchecked.

I’m betting that we have reached the moment when enough sports fans are willing to speak up and insist that colleges treat women athletes fairly.

Pamela Seidenman is the founder and executive director of Accelerate Equity, which is dedicated to achieving equitable treatment for women’s college sports. She grew up in Baltimore playing lacrosse and field hockey, played ice hockey at Penn and the University of Cambridge, and took up ultimate frisbee once she moved to California.

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