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Kirby Hocutt, former Ohio director of Athletics, announced the elimination of four sports to balance the athletic budget and comply with Title IX in January 2007. (Rachel Spencer | File Photo)

OU's compliance with Title IX still uncertain 40 years after enacting

Title IX was signed into law in June 1972 with the goal of improving gender equity at public schools, including in their athletics programs. Forty years later, its effects, both positive and negative, are still being felt at Ohio University.

The law states that “no person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”

Title IX has been specifically pertinent in regard to college athletics, where male sports had previously dominated the spectrum.

Ohio women’s basketball coach Semeka Randall has been one of the beneficiaries of Title IX. As a collegian, Randall played basketball at Tennessee under legendary coach Pat Summitt, and was on the Lady Vols team that went 39-0 in 1998.

Randall said the growth of women’s athletics has been tremendous since the law was passed.

“Title IX set the bar,” Randall said. “I remember a story from coach Summitt telling us how her and her ex-husband drove the bus to the game and how they washed uniforms. If you tell our student athletes that today, they’re like, ‘What? Me wash uniforms?’ ”

Randall said the added exposure women’s athletics has received from new TV stations such as the Big Ten Network has added to the growth.

“They are embracing and adding women’s basketball to the package when it used to be just football and men’s basketball,” she said. “You’re starting to see role models, whereas before, my role model was Charles Barkley. I didn’t have a female to look up to.”

But the law became especially relevant to OU in a different way five years ago, when administrators decided to cut four sports in order to meet Title IX standards and to help balance a rampant budget.

Along with indoor and outdoor men’s track, women’s lacrosse and men’s swimming and diving were eliminated.

Greg Werner coached both the Ohio men’s and women’s swimming and diving teams until 2007 and remains the women’s coach.

“Obviously, it was very disappointing, but I know there were a lot of factors that led to that,” Werner said. “It’s my understanding that it was originally a financial decision, and then it created a gender equity imbalance and they had to make an adjustment with the sports.”

In order to comply with Title IX, universities must meet one of three requirements.

For Ohio, the most relevant requirement is having participation opportunities that must be “substantially proportionate” to its male-to-female enrollment ratio.

Before cutting four sports in 2007, Ohio had 20 varsity sports, nine men’s and 11 women’s. Because of the large number of football scholarships, the aid provided to student-athletes was still not proportional. The cuts left the Bobcats with the Football Bowl Subdivision minimum of 16 sports.

When the cuts were made, former Ohio Athletic Director Kirby Hocutt said they would help the remaining sports because they would receive more revenue. Werner acknowledged an increase in the women’s swimming budget but said plenty of negative effects have been felt as well.

“Certainly, we were able to see an increase in our resources and things we were able to do for the women’s program that we weren’t able to do when we had the combined program,” Werner said. “But on the flip side, it absolutely disrupted a lot of lives. The training environment was altered immediately. There’s some people that don’t want to come because they want to be in a combined environment.”

Pat Washburn, Ohio’s NCAA faculty representative from 1996 to 2012, was a member of the ad hoc committee that recommended eliminating the sports.

Washburn said the university feared the consequences if it did not comply with Title IX and felt that cutting the sports was the only option.

But five years later, Washburn said he is still not sure that the university is completely compliant.

“We were told that, if we cut these sports, they would be a lot closer in Title IX,” Washburn said. “Amy Dean, (Ohio’s executive senior associate athletic director), specifically said we can do this by cutting these sports, so we cut the sports.

“From what we were told, we had to do it. I feel like we were misled because, to my knowledge, they have never met Title IX.”

Dean said Title IX is something that the administration is constantly aware of and something they try to keep up with as enrollment numbers change.

“It’s more complicated than being able to say yes or no,” Dean said about Ohio’s Title IX compliance. “In terms of proportionality we are, in regards to scholarships we are. Our facilities we need to address, but they are part of our gender-equity plan and we are making progress.”

Opponents of eliminating the programs argued that money could have been allocated from other areas to avoid the cuts.

“We made this announcement, and it was two weeks later that (Hocutt) made the announcement to build a $600,000 football facility. It was really bad PR to do that,” said B. David Ridpath, assistant professor of sports administration at OU. “I understand that sport elimination can be considered at some point, but it should be a last resort.”

But Dean said it was the only viable choice.

“If there were another option, we would have taken that option,” she said.

“Dropping four programs is really the last thing that an athletic department would ever choose to do.”

Dean said that, though the men’s sports had to be eliminated because of Title IX, cutting women’s lacrosse was purely a financial decision because the Mid-American Conference did not sponsor women’s lacrosse teams.

Werner said the cuts have had some negative effects on the swimming program and the university.

“There is a negative stigma that has been associated with the program and the university because of eliminating sports,” he said.

“They sent a message the university doesn’t support athletics, specifically those programs that were cut. Whether that’s right or not, that’s the perception by a certain sector of the public. That’s something that we do battle still, five-plus years later.”

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