While Central Michigan University approved women’s lacrosse and golf last month, two different sports were originally on the docket following a September 2011 letter from the Office of Civil Rights.
According to a 50-page internal report issued to University President George Ross by the Title IX & Gender Equity committee, obtained by Central Michigan Life, CMU received a letter from the Office of Civil Rights on Sept. 26, 2011, that had determined it “needed to take immediate action to add women’s swimming and diving and women’s tennis.”
The move was a response to Title IX, enacted as part of the Education Act of 1972 to begin the process of evening the playing field when it came to opportunities for females in collegiate sports. In 1996, the Office of Civil Rights defined a three-part test for universities to determine if they were properly striving toward compliance.
The three parts, referred to in the report as “prongs,” are 1.) whether participation opportunities for male and female students were proportionate to their respective enrollments, 2.) whether an institution can show a history and continuing program expansion and 3.) if a program cannot show program expansion, whether it can demonstrate the interests and abilities of that sex can be accommodated by the present program.
CMU’s participation rate in athletics, according to the report, is currently at 61 percent males and 39 percent females, a contrast to the 54-46 female to male enrollment ratio, meaning the university did not meet prong one compliance. CMU then tried to go the prong two route in 1995, planning to add swimming in 1997 and an unspecified sport in 1998. Those, however, never materialized after a 1996 letter from the university’s general counsel to then-athletics director Herb Deromedi said the swimming facility in Rose did not meet standards and posed safety concerns.
“The plan was revised,” according to the report. “This revision resulted in the addition of women’s soccer in the fall of 1998. The addition of another sport was indefinitely delayed.”
The report states CMU told the NCAA in 2005 that it would add another women’s sport by the 2009-10 academic year, but a change in interpretation by the Department of Education on how to measure prong three compliance allowed the university to, once again, delay the addition of another women’s sport. It was then determined that since CMU had only added one women’s sport and eliminated three since 1972, it could not satisfy the second prong.
Leaving prong three. And in 2008, according to the report, CMU was notified by the Department of Education that the Office of Civil Rights was conducting a randomly-selected review of participation opportunities. This led to the previously-reported survey issued to students in the spring of 2009, which only included about 2,200 respondents, that allowed the university to conclude there was limited interest in women’s sports.
Under the Obama administration, the survey was deemed an inadequate way of measuring prong three compliance, resulting in the September 2011 letter from OCR telling CMU to “take immediate action to add women’s swimming and diving and tennis if CMU was going to use Prong Three as its standard to maintain compliance.”
“The OCR stated that due to the low response rate on the student body census survey, OCR could (and did) inflate the results to make assumptions as to what sports should be added,” the report states. “CMU disputed … the statement and assumption, but acknowledges the 2005 Department of Education interpretation of the resulting survey tool that CMU used … rendering the survey tool a weak measure of ongoing Prong Three compliance.”
The university responded in January 2012 saying it would “reassess the data and CMU’s position on Prong Three of the three-part test.” OCR approved the position, allowing CMU to move forward with another evaluation, this time led by a 15-person committee. According to the report, the committee found Prong Three to be “inherently vague” and determined the university would have to ultimately reach Prong One compliance.
As a result, women’s golf and lacrosse were selected, and slated to begin in the 2014-15 and 15-16 season, respectively, based on local interest and resources. According to the report, the university will also have to modify roster sizes by adding 32 to 35 female participants after the addition and male rosters will need to be reduced by around 53 before the start of the 2018-19 academic year.