Often, the number of players on the combined varsity, junior varsity and freshman football teams could cause a challenge with respect to Title IX compliance. When determining sports participation opportunities using the three-prong test, substantial proportionality is one prong that schools may use to determine compliance. A school only needs to meet one of the prongs.
The aspect of substantial proportionality measures whether participation opportunities for female students (the historically under-represented gender) are provided in numbers substantially proportionate to their enrollment at the school. To meet this requirement, athletic administrators should not have to cap rosters or eliminate the number of participants in football or any other boys sport. Restricting the number of football players is not the recommended solution.
Providing two female sports such as field hockey and volleyball, for example, in the fall season may not be enough to improve the substantial proportionality required for the participation opportunities for females. This means that other accommodations or approaches may need to be taken to ensure compliance.
There may be four ways to help achieve the needed slots for female participants within your program. The first obvious step would be to add another sport or two for girls in addition to what you already have based upon an interest survey. Creating additional options for participation provides a possible solution for compliance.
However, adding any new teams, regardless of gender, will require some details. Schools have to consider the availability of facility space, the cost of operations for a new team and the potential of developing a competitive schedule of opponents within a reasonable travel radius. These challenges cannot be used as an excuse for avoiding the addition of new opportunities for females, but the issues have to be considered.
A simple adjustment could be to ask coaches of girls teams to carry a larger number of players on their squads. For example, the girls basketball team could carry 15 players rather than 12. If this was done for all girls teams, it could help to increase the total number of female participants. If possible within the policies of the school or state association, you might also institute a no-cut policy for girls teams. This would also entail adding additional coaches when needed.
To accomplish these goals, athletic directors may have to educate coaches with respect to Title IX and provide them with rationale for these changes.
It is also important to offer as many levels of teams in all sports. At one high school, a head varsity basketball coach proclaimed that he didn’t want a freshman girls team. Given that most of the better players were already on the varsity or junior varsity squads, he said a freshman team would simply take away from valuable gym time, which would have to be further divided. In addition, he stated, “The chance that a player remaining on the freshman team of ever making the varsity is less than five percent – not worthy of the effort.” In this situation, the athletic administrator has to take control and insist that every level will be offered.
In some sports, not all candidates can be kept on a team. There may be a limit, either established by the district or state regulations, or transportation and coaching staff constraints. For those females who don’t make the soccer team, for example, the fourth possible approach is to “channel” them to field hockey or even volleyball – whichever sport does not have a full roster and can use a few extra participants. Also, sports such as cross country and track, in the spring, may be best suited to accommodate additional athletes with the possible addition of an extra coach.
As the athletic administrator, actively meet with female student- athletes who did not make their first-choice sport and encourage them to join another team. Athletic administrators can also engage the school’s guidance counselor as an additional resource to hold conversations with students. For those who may have interest in another sport, pass along the paperwork – hard or digital copies if the forms have been electronically submitted – to the coaches of the other sports.
By putting in extra time and a concerted effort, you may be able to encourage and support female student participation in interscholastic athletics. These individuals initially tried out because they wanted to be part of your program. All you have to do is to find a home for them.
It should be a goal to provide as many opportunities as possible for all students in education-based athletics. The key is monitoring a school’s Title IX compliance to support the endeavors of girls while not limiting opportunities for boys. It is a delicate process that will require good oversight, leadership and support.
Dr. David Hoch is a former athletic director at Loch Raven High School in Towson, Maryland (Baltimore County). He assumed this position in 2003 after nine years as director of athletics at Eastern Technological High School in Baltimore County. He has 24 years experience coaching basketball, including 14 years on the collegiate level. Hoch, who has a doctorate in sports management from Temple (Pennsylvania) University, is past president of the Maryland State Athletic Directors Association, and he formerly was president of the Maryland State Coaches Association. He has had more than 630 articles published in professional magazines and journals, as well as two textbook chapters. He is the author of a book entitled Blueprint for Better Coaching. Hoch is a member of the NFHS High School Today Publications Committee.