By Ellen J. Staurowsky, Ed.D., Senior Writer & Professor, Sport Management, Drexel University, email@example.com
Did Oregon State University (OSU) knowingly and willfully provide inaccurate information to the federal government when it filed its annual Equity in Athletics Disclosure report for the academic year 2016-20171? Did the fact that OSU included participation opportunities taken up by male practice players in the sports of women’s basketball and soccer represent a violation of EADA reporting guidelines?
In a complaint filed with the United States Department of Education Office for Civil Rights in Seattle, WA and the United States Department of Justice Criminal Division in Washington, DC in May of 2018, OSU officials were accused of engaging in fraudulent roster management practices (inflating women’s participation opportunities and under-representing men’s participation opportunities) for the purpose of presenting a false impression that they are meeting the substantial proportionality standard of Title IX’s three-part test of athletic participation. The complaint further argues that because female athletes receive less than their fair share of athletic opportunities, they are also denied the benefit of athletic scholarships. The complaint concludes that OSU’s EADA data provide a basis for a prima facia case “…to infer a violation has occurred and demonstrates that the College is not providing equal opportunities for enrolled female college students to play sports as determined under Title IX’s three-part test” (Rossmiller v. Oregon State University, 2018, p. 4).
Analysis of Oregon State’s Athletic Participation Opportunities
Title IX compliance in the area of athletic participation is assessed through the application of a three-part test introduced through the 1979 Title IX Policy Interpretation. Schools may achieve compliance by addressing one of these three questions:
Are athletic opportunities for female and male athletes offered at rates substantially proportional to their respective enrollments? OR
Has there been a history and continuing practice of program expansion that addresses the interests and abilities of the underrepresented sex? OR
Can it be shown that the athletic participation opportunities as offered are sufficient to meet the existing interests and abilities of the underrepresented sex?
In an analysis of EADA data reported by OSU for the academic years 2003-2004 through 2016-2017 (see Table 1), there is an appearance that female athletes have received access to athletic participation opportunities proportional to or above the rate at which female students were represented within the student population in 11 out of 14 years reviewed.
Table 1. Comparison of Oregon State University Percent of Female Undergraduates to Percent of Female Athletic Participation Opportunities
Academic Reporting Year
Percent of Female Undergraduates
Percent of Female Athletic Participation Opportunities
When the number of athletic participation opportunities offered to male and female athletes during that same 14-year time frame is examined, there is an early “roller coaster” pattern showing a wide discrepancy in offerings in 2003-2004 with a significant correction occurring in each of the following years, later followed by downturns and upward swings through 2011-2012. A shift occurs in 2011-2012 marking the first reporting year out of the set where OSU female athletes receive a larger number of opportunities compared to their male athletic peers. That trend line continues through 2016-2017 (see Chart 1).
So, what does this mean? If the numbers are accurately reported, this pattern is suggestive of a school that seeks to comply with the substantial proportionality standard of the three-part test. The trend line might be interpreted as representing affirmative steps to address existing inequities demonstrating a history and continuing practice of program expansion and responsiveness to accommodating the interests and abilities of female athletes.
The complainant, however, pointed out that the numbers were problematic for two reasons. First, there is the issue of counting male practice players in the sports of women’s basketball and women’s soccer. For those unfamiliar, some coaches of women’s sports use practice teams comprised of men as part of a strategy to elevate the women’s game, the theory being that men are typically stronger and faster than women, thus presenting more physically challenging practices that take women farther and faster down the path of developing their sports. While this women’s sport team management strategy is not without controversy, it is provided for within the definition of who can be counted as participants (Staurowsky, 2016).
As per the EADA Glossary (2018), participants are defined as “Students who, as of the day of a varsity team’s first scheduled contest (A) Are listed by the institution on the varsity team’s roster; (B) Receive athletically related student aid; or (C) Practice with the varsity team and receive coaching from one or more varsity coaches”. Male practice players are not listed on varsity rosters nor are they eligible to receive athletic scholarships. However, they do practice with varsity teams, are typically given practice gear, and receive the benefit of coaching. Reflective of this understanding, OSU explained in a caveat that out of the 21 participants reported to be on the women’s basketball team, nine were male practice players while women’s soccer had seven male practice players among the 33-member team roster.
Second, OSU’s caveat also includes an explanation regarding the number of participation opportunities included in a category within the report called “all track and field combined”. The EADA reporting guidelines allow for participation in the sports of cross country, indoor track and field, and outdoor track and field to be reported in the aggregate. OSU offered some information to clarify the breakdown of participation in those three sports by female athletes. As it is presented in OSU’s report, 19 female cross-country runners are listed as participating in track and field with another 30 female athletes listed as competing in both indoor and outdoor track and field. If plotted out (see Table 2), such a configuration would nearly reach the total number of 118 reported in the all track combined category.3
Table 2. Analysis of OSU Female Athlete Participation in All Track Combined — 2016-2017
Indoor Track & Field
Outdoor Track & Field
Analysis of Oregon State’s EADA Report — Allocation of Athletic Scholarships
Under Title IX, funding for athletic scholarships is expected to be distributed in a manner substantially proportional to the representation of females and males within the athlete population within one percent, barring fluctuations due to factors such as varying tuition rates by major, in-state versus out-of-state tuition and/or room and board rates, or some other non-gender related factor (Bonnette, 1990). As evidenced in Table 3., OSU has an uneven pattern of complying with that standard but has been on target during the past three reporting years.4
Table 3. Oregon State Athletic Scholarship Allocations — 2003-2004 through 2016-2017
Percent of Female Athletes5
Percent of AS Allocation to Female Athletes
The importance of determining whether athletic departments offer equitable opportunities is demonstrated in the difference in the amount of athletic scholarship money available to female and male athletes. While the allocations may be proportional to the representation of female and male athletes within an athletic department, and reflect compliance with Title IX expectations, there may still be quite a difference in the actual amount of athletic scholarship money allocated. As reflected in Table 4. below, OSU female athletes consistently received less money in athletic scholarships every year between 2003-2004, with gaps ranging between $537,530 to $1.3 million.
Table 4. Oregon State’s Athletically-Related Financial Aid Allocations 2003-2004 thru 2016-2017
An EADA report is not a Title IX audit. Data reported in the EADA report is intended to provide a snapshot of resource and opportunity distribution based on sex within an athletic department. As such, it may or may not provide full detail that allows for a determination of Title IX compliance.
The OCR complaint filed against OSU takes issue with the reporting of male practice players, however, the reporting guidelines allow for such disclosure. A Title IX analysis would remove those male practice players before making a determination regarding substantial proportionality in terms of athletic participation opportunities (dropping the percent from 51% to 49.5%).
The complaint does raise the question of how true the participation numbers as reported are. Given that other schools have been found at times to inflate the number of female athletes participating in their programs, such a concern is not unwarranted (Willmsen, 2017a). Following an investigation by the Seattle Times in 2017, it was found that reported participation figures for women’s rowing at the University of Washington included female students who attended an informational meeting about rowing but never pursued the matter further (Willmsen, 2017a; 2017b).
And while OSU provided a description of how they counted their female athletes in the category of all track and field combined, the broader issue of whether a female long-distance runner is actually competing in three separate sports or simply competing in different events is one that has been raised as an area that deserves more critical attention that it has gotten (Galles & Staurowsky, 2013).
The pattern revealed in Chart 1 might support a closer look at how OSU has counted its female athletes over the years. The addition of 100 athletic opportunities in one year between 2003-2004 and 2004-2005 may have a sound explanation. However, that is a large addition of female athletic opportunities in a 12-month span of time. The fact that the numbers then went down by nearly 100, from 280 to 189 between 2005-2006 and 2007-2008, further fuel curiosity as does the high of 314 in 2012-2013.
The complaint illustrates the value of the EADA in providing information to the public to use in asking for more clarity about how decisions regarding gender equity within college and university athletic departments are reached. Oregon State will have the opportunity to respond and offer its own explanation on how it approaches the achievement of gender equity within its athletic department. Notably, in a document referred to as Build the Dam: Oregon State Athletics 2018-2023 Strategic Plan, one of the athletic department’s strategic goals is to “demonstrate inclusive excellence by advancing diversity and equity in all that we do” (Barnes, 2018).
Barnes, S. (2018, Feb.). Build the Dam: Oregon State Athletics 2018-2013 Strategic Plan. Corvallis, OR: Oregon State University Department of Athletics. Retrieved from https://static.osubeavers.com/custompages/strategicplan/
Bonnette, V. (1990). Title IX athletics investigator’s manual. Washington, DC: Office for Civil Rights. Retrieved from https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED400763.pdf
Galles, K., & Staurowsky, E J. (2013, March). The games schools play to cheat: Is Title IX law keeping up with schools’ attempts to avoid it? Paper presented at the annual conference for the Sport and Recreation Law Association, Las Vegas, NV.
Rossmiller v. Oregon State University. (2018). United States Department of Education Seattle Office for Civil Rights & the United States Department of Justice, Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://www.orangemedianetwork.com/read-full-complaint-here/pdf_8d532b44-676d-11e8-9332-dfa0aa2c5d9a.html
Staurowsky, E. J. (2016, April 2). Women’s college sport, Title IX compliance, and male practice players. Presentation at the 18th annual Northeast Atlantic Sport Psychology Conference Association for Applied Sport Psychology Mid-Atlantic Regional Conference, Temple University, Philadelphia, PA.
Willmsen, K. (2017a, March 5). UW women’s rowing-team numbers inflated, avoiding Title IX scrutiny. Seattle Times. Retrieved from https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/times-watchdog/uw-womens-rowing-team-numbers-inflated-avoiding-title-ix-scrutiny/
Willmsen, K. (2017b, August 25). UW crew program changing how it counts women under Title IX. Seattle Times. Retrieved from http://www.orangemedianetwork.com/daily_barometer/complaint-filed-with-doj-claims-osu-violating-title-ix-inflating/article_fc30b76e-676f-11e8-9539-67348bd60954.html
1. In the complaint, the reporting year is referenced as 2015-2016. Based on other data cited in the report, it appears that the reporting year should be 2016-2017.
2. The gap is the difference between the percent of females represented in the undergraduate population compared to the percent of female athletic participation opportunities.
3. The total number as plotted appears to lead to a different total number that than noted in the EADA Report (the difference between the reported 118 compared to 117). The caveat explains that the “accurate headcount” for all track and field combined is 50, meaning that while there are 117 participation opportunities, 50 female athletes competed in those opportunities.
4. As noted earlier in the paragraph, the fluctuations might be the result of non-gender related factors (tuition differences by major, etc.).
5. Note: As a definitional issue, the percent of female athletes is different from the percent of female athletic participation opportunities. A female athlete, for example, may compete in more than one sport or athletic opportunities. Since athletic scholarships as per NCAA rules are limited to tuition, room and board, books and fees, and a stipend up to the full cost of attendance, an athlete may receive only one full athletic scholarship.