CMU to add more women's sports in next few years

In an effort to continue striving toward Title IX compliance, Central Michigan University plans to add more women’s sports in the next few years.

CMU Athletics Director Dave Heeke said Thursday the school’s athletics committee, comprised of faculty members, campus leaders, students and representatives from the athletics department, plans to meet Friday to begin the process of a “full exploration of adding sports.”

“Generally, that results in sports for the underrepresented portion … for that, it is female sports,” Heeke said. “We think in the next year to two years, you’re going to start seeing additional sports.”

In an effort to prove compliance with the gender equality law, CMU issued a survey to all students in the spring of 2009 gauging the interest and ability of female athletes. The survey, which had about 2,200 respondents, concluded there was a very limited interest in adding new women’s sports. However, a repeal in April 2010 – the George W. Bush administration had ruled a survey was sufficient enough – forced schools to adhere to more stringent criteria to prove that they were compliant.

“We went through process and the survey showed that there was not a substantial interest level in additional sports -- that we were meeting the needs,” Heeke said. “When the Obama administration came in, that tool was deemed non-compliant and the Office of Civil Rights came back and said you can’t use that anymore. When that went away, we had to start over.”

According to the U.S. News & World Report database, female students at CMU comprise about 55 percent of total enrollment. Under Title IX, introduced in the Education Amendment of 1972 by the U.S. Department of Education, public institutions are obligated to recognize the increased interest and ability for women to participate in intercollegiate athletics. For most schools, CMU included, that means adding additional teams to try and close the gap between the number of men and women playing sports.

CMU added women’s soccer in 1998, and it is unknown which sports are next. Golf, swimming and tennis are the obvious choices – all three are played by other Mid-American Conference schools and provide immediate access to recruiting around the state and region – but the exploration process will determine interest and feasibility for the school, Heeke said.

CMU is also required to gauge interest in sports deemed “emerging” by the NCAA, such as equestrian, sand volleyball and rugby.

“It’s a very open slate right now,” Heeke said. “We don’t go in with any preconceived notions.”

Whichever sport(s) the school decides to add, Heeke said will require an additional investment to the $22 million athletics department budget. How much of an investment remains to be seen and will depend on the sport. A swimming team would require a brand new facility, costing upwards of $20 million.

Currently, CMU offers eight women’s sports and six men’s teams. While it might appear women have more opportunities to play sports, scholarships for football result in significant more for men than women. About 85 scholarships are given out to student-athletes playing football at CMU, Heeke said. More than one women’s sport could be added, and would be done in a stair-step approach over a several-year timeframe.

“There’s not a sport like that on the female side, so you have to add multiple sports to add an equal number,” Heeke said.


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