A numbers game: How UNM has shifted toward Title IX compliance - Albuquerque Journal

A numbers game: How UNM has shifted toward Title IX compliance

Fifty years ago this month, Title IX changed the course of gender equity in education.

And while this past week has shined a light on trailblazers and celebrated strides made in the past half century thanks in large part to the landmark legislation, there are also constant reminders that there is still a ways to go before true gender equity in college athletics exists.

As part of the Journal’s continuing Title IX series, we wanted to narrow the focus and examine not how far UNM has come in terms of gender equity in athletics since 1972. But also it is necessary to see how it moved toward gender equity compliance just in the past four years since releasing a 38-page Title IX assessment report that shined a light on an athletic department that was falling short in terms of providing its female athletes the same opportunities as their male counterparts.

UNM’s Amelia Mazza-Downie captures the Mountain West’s individual cross country championship on October 29, 2021. (Mike Sandoval/For the Albuquerque Journal)

“We are committed to equity and have been concerned for many months that our athletics program is not in compliance with federal law,” UNM President Garnett Stokes and athletic director Eddie Nuñez co-wrote in a letter to the campus community on May 18, 2018, when the report was made public.

“… Understanding compliance with Title IX can be complicated, but it is clear from the independent review that the University is falling short in adhering to federal guidelines.”

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Numerous concerns were brought to light in a report some criticized as being crafted as a justification for impending sports cuts that came later that summer.

But none was more glaring than the participation disparity between male and female athletes.

Title IX requires a school to offer female opportunities in athletics at a “substantially proportional” rate to the male-to-female ratio of the general student body enrollment.

For the 2016-17 academic year — the one referenced in the Title IX assessment report — females made up 55.4% of UNM’s undergraduate enrollment, but only 43.8% of the participants in athletics. And they accounted for 70 fewer participation spots overall than their male counterparts. (Participation opportunities include practice players and athletes on partial scholarship.)

Four years after the report was released and five academic years of data reports later females accounted for 53.8% of UNM’s athletic opportunities in 2021-22. That is thanks to a combination of roster management that saw some male sport rosters reduced in size and some female ones increased and the cutting of sports like men’s soccer.

In UNM’s most recent Equity in Athletics Disclosure Act (EADA) report filed to the Department of Education, the Lobos reported 281 female participants compared with 241 male.

Spending is still significantly slanted toward men’s sports at UNM — something common for any university that fields a football team. But because of the improved participation numbers, UNM is now considered Title IX compliant.

“We want to make sure that it doesn’t matter what sport you’re in, you’re gonna get everything we can offer you — from academics, to the (financial) aid that you’re able to get per sport, to additional assistance in mental health or nutrition or anything we can do,” Nuñez said. “I want to make it as equal as possible between male and female student-athletes. … Are the numbers as perfect as they need to be? No. But we’re working on it.”

What the numbers mean

As part of its deep dive into what it called “widespread use of roster manipulation” among 107 public universities that compete in the Football Bowl Subdivision level, including UNM and New Mexico State, USA Today found “the vast majority” of schools were inflating numbers of female athletes participating in sports.

Such examples of significant roster manipulation during the 2018-19 EADA reporting year, according to USA Today’s analysis, included:

n The University of Wisconsin reported having 165 athletes on its women’s rowing roster and Alabama reported 122, most of whom never competed;

n The University of Michigan counted 29 men who practiced at various times during the season with its women’s basketball team toward the female participation count. (The Wolverines had just 14 female players on scholarship that season who counted toward the overall participation numbers.)

n The University of Hawaii gained a total of 78 female roster spots by double- or triple-counting the same athlete in multiple sports, such as a distance runner who runs cross country, indoor track and field, and outdoor track and field as three roster spots since they are viewed by the NCAA as three unique sports.

But while the above examples certainly seem to go against the spirit of Title IX, they aren’t illegal. In fact, all the reporting of numbers falls in line with how the DOE instructs universities to fill out their EADA reports.

USA Today reported both UNM and NMSU added more than 50 roster spots on their EADA reporting for 2018-19 based largely on the double- and triple-counting of athletes who compete in cross country, indoor track and outdoor track.

“If they are legitimately playing two sports, we count them twice, per the rules for the EADA reporting,” said Amy Beggin, UNM’s Director or Compliance and Interim Senior Woman Administrator. “We have some (male athletes) in both football and track, and then some (athletes) that run cross country are also counted in indoor track and outdoor track if they also compete in both of those.”

Athletic-related financial aid

In 2016-17, male athletes at UNM received 62.6% ($4.74 million) in athletic-related financial aid compared with 37% ($2.83 million) for female athletes.

In 2020-21, male athletes received 58.3% ($4.72 million) compared with 41.7% ($3.37 million) for female athletes.

There remains a large gap — one hard to overcome when one sport (football) has 85 full scholarship players and no female sport has even one fifth that number of scholarships or equivalencies to give out. But Nuñez points out progress continues to be made in terms of female participants at least getting the maximum use they can out of the number of scholarships the NCAA allows them to have, depending on their sport.

“One of the things that we heard around the time I got here, and it was in that (2018 Title IX assessment) report, is we needed to make sure that we’re maximizing every female scholarship that we have available,” Nuñez said. “So if a team has eight scholarships (it is allowed to give), we’re not telling them, ‘Hey, you can only have six.’ At one point here, for whatever reason, I don’t think we were maximizing scholarships.

“Now, we are making sure every student athlete gets everything we can offer them out of their experience as a Lobo.”

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