Lacrosse, New Recruitment Trends, & Implications for Title IX

Saturday, June 23 marked the 40th anniversary of the passing of Title IX. A great deal of print and broadcast media was dedicated to this landmark piece of federal civil right legislation, including a documentary aired on ESPN titled “A Sporting Chance.”

In the last year I have learned a great deal about Title IX, a law that is constantly under attack in what sport sociologists call “contested terrain.” One data trend in particular worries me.

Title IX’s most prominent “prong” (there are 3 prongs: proportionality, history of continued progress, interest of under represented sex), proportionality, specifies the percentage of female athletes should be in proportion to the percentage of females in the student body of the institution. Currently females comprise 57% of students on college campuses, but only ~43% of athletes are female. Thus, sport participation opportunities for females is disproportionate. In fact, male athletes outnumber females at both the high school and college levels (See graph on left).

Participation Data from "NCAA Sports Sponsorship and Participation Rates Report"

One would assume 40 years after Title IX participation numbers would be equal, but they are not. In fact one trend to keep an eye on, is the fact in the last few years, more opportunities have been added for male athletes than for females (see stats on right). Therefore the likelihood gender equity will be achieved any time soon is low.

Why are more sport participation opportunities being added for males? To answer this look at the percentage of males in the student body…43%. Colleges desperately want to attract males to their campuses, especially small liberal arts schools, so the student body is approximately 50:50 male to female.

NCAA Participation Data based on "NCAA Sports Sponsorship and Participation Rates Report"

What is one way to attract and recruit males to campuses….offer sport programs! What is one way to attract a LOT of males to boost your student body numbers to 50:50…add for example, lacrosse (for some great data on LAX click here!). Lacrosse is popular, teams are large, both males and females play, and it is less expensive to run/add than football.

The Truth is in the Numbers

From 2007-2011, 42 men’s lacrosse teams were added across NCAA D-III, with an average squad size of ~35 (+1470 male athletes). Comparatively, from 2007-’11, 54 women’s LAX teams were added with an average squad size of 20 (+1080 female athletes). So when colleges want to attract males, but not be out of compliance with Title IX, they add BOTH a women’s and men’s lacrosse team, but have a smaller average squad size for the women. (Note: from 2007-’11 eleven NCAA D-III football teams have been added).

Based on the data, admission officers and those in the lacrosse community are ecstatic, while those who fight for gender equity at large in athletics may groan.

The result? The gap between the number of male and female athletes gets LARGER and Title IX compliance under proportionality is less likely.

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