A George W. Bush-era policy was repealed Tuesday by the U.S. Department of Education to better ensure equal opportunities for female athletes.
The new policy requires schools and universities to adhere to more stringent criteria to prove officials comply with provisions of the federal Title IX gender equality law.
The mended policy enacted in 2005 allowed a school to prove it met the interests and ability of female athletes by just distributing a survey to gauge student input.
But because a non-response to the survey is considered a lack of interest in sports, according to the survey’s criteria, results were widely misinterpreted to prove disinterest in starting new women’s sports among students, which critics say hampered opportunities for female athletes.
Marcy Weston, a senior associate athletic director at Central Michigan University, said failures to respond should not automatically be associated with disinterest in starting new women’s sports because its possible respondents just did not take the time to fill out the survey.
“I am comfortable with the change in this policy because I feel the survey took a default position, meaning ‘no answer’ indicated the respondent was satisfied with what is in place,” she said. “(No) comment doesn’t necessarily mean an affirmative response.”
Schools and universities will now be required to show stronger evidence that they offer equal opportunities to athletes and will not be able to rely on the survey method only.
Derek van der Merwe, also a CMU senior associate athletic director and member of the Gender Equity and Diversity Committee on campus, said CMU uses the survey method to prove compliance but, because of the new policy, will look to other traditional ways to do so.
“With this methodology off the table,” he said, “we will have to explore other available methodology to substantiate compliance.”
He said in addition to the survey, schools and universities can prove they are in compliance by proving their female athletic participation rates are proportionate to rates of enrollment, by showing a history of expanding opportunities for the underrepresented sex, and that they fully accommodate female interest.
The survey, van der Merwe said, was the most cost-effective way for CMU to prove the third option. He said that, per the most recent survey results, CMU is currently in compliance with Title IX.
“We surveyed the entire campus population in the spring for fall enrollment,” he said. “We are meeting the interest of those on our campus community.”
Out of 2,217 respondents, van der Merwe said 907 were male and 1,310 were female.
He said the survey was “tagged” to the fall enrollment screen so every student at CMU enrolling for fall classes last spring had the opportunity to take it.
The university follows national trends to gauge which new sports could be added to better accommodate athletes, van der Merwe said.
In 1998, he said women’s soccer was added at CMU.
“We have an established gender and equity committee at CMU with representatives across the campus that have been involved in evaluating this at CMU,” he said. “We take this very seriously.”
CMU now has nine women’s sports teams and seven men’s.
-The Associated Press contributed to this report.