Rutgers athletics spends considerably less on sports than most of its Big Ten Conference competitors, but does a better job than most of its rivals at ensuring equity in how men’s and women’s sports share in the largesse.
That’s the overarching finding from a Gannett New Jersey review of fiscal year 2014 data submitted by the school to the NCAA and the U.S. Department of Education, which enforces the federal law barring gender-based discrimination in federally funded education programs.
Despite operating the most heavily subsidized athletic department in the nation, Rutgers is in the upper half of the 14-school conference when it comes to compliance under Title IX, the landmark civil rights law, and other measures of gender equity, based on the review, which was conducted with assistance from representatives of the National women’s Law Center and the women’s Sports Foundation.
The organizations take the national lead in reviewing Title IX compliance across the NCAA. By their estimation, most schools fall short of the law’s dictates, by one measure or another.
Rutgers was deemed Title IX compliant during an independent audit in 2013. It continues on that course, according to the Gannett New Jersey review.
• While Rutgers spent about $500,000 more on scholarships for male student-athletes than for women student-athletes, eight Big Ten schools spent at least $1 million more on men and all offered at least 13 fewer scholarships for women.
• No Big Ten school committed a larger percentage of its total NCAA-reported scholarship dollars to its women student-athletes. Of the $10.61 million in sports scholarships paid out, Rutgers women shared $5.06 million, just shy of 48 percent.
• The percentage of women in Rutgers’ total student-athlete population (47.7) is the sixth-best mark in the conference.
• Spending $13.4 million on women’s sports, Rutgers is in a virtual three-way tie with Iowa and Purdue for dedicating the highest percentage — 31.2 percent — of its gender-specific athletic budget to women. All told, Rutgers spent $76.6 million on athletics in 2014, including non-gender-specific expenses.
•But Rutgers lags the conference in a key area: only seven of its 12 women’s sports are either fully funded or within one scholarship equivalency of the NCAA limit. By comparison, Ohio State fully funds all 14 of its women’s sports.
“Certain schools are doing better than others,” said Neena Chaudhry, director of equal opportunities in athletics at the National women’s Law Center, in reviewing the basics of Rutgers’ compliance at Gannett New Jersey’s request. “And these numbers are much closer (to the target) than many schools I’ve seen.”
Passed by Congress in 1972, Title IX prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any federally funded education program or activity. The law is credited with expanding opportunity for women across the broad spectrum of occupations and endeavors, from science to industry.
It is responsible for liberating women’s sports from an era in which they received only 2 percent of college athletic budgets, according to the website TitleIX.info. That number was up to roughly 28 percent in 2012, according to the NWLC.
The Office of Civil Rights has the power to strip federal funding from any school in violation of Title IX, though that penalty has never been invoked.
The law is also intricately intertwined with the unfolding debate over whether student-athletes are fairly compensated against the revenues drawn in by the NCAA. Beginning with the 2015-16 school year, schools can offer cost-of-attendance stipends for expenses not covered by a full athletic scholarship, though the amount can vary at every school.
It could constitute a Title IX violation if a school distributes the additional financial aid in a manner that is out of proportion with the institution’s male and female student-athlete pool, according to the experts.
While some college sports observers have suggested that only revenue-generating football and men’s basketball players — maybe women’s basketball players, too — should collect the extra benefit, Rutgers has signaled that it won’t alter its “fair share” approach in distributing the stipends.
“For certain, it seems to me, that Title IX is an after-thought (in the public discussion about stipends)and that is a very dangerous thing,” Athletics Director Julie Hermann said. “It does cost. It is the right thing to do. There is no option not to do it. Every smart idea, double it.”
With a seismic shift coming to the landscape of NCAA athletics — an industry earning almost $1 billion annually, a third of that amount generated in the Big Ten in 2013 — Gannett New Jersey completed its own comprehensive review of where Rutgers stands in the three areas governed by Title IX.
Here is a summary of those findings, based on participation opportunities, treatment of student-athletes and financial aid:
In the nearly five decades of Title IX, the number of women competing in college sports has increased more than five times, from fewer than 32,000 in 1972 to more than 193,000 in 2010-11, according to the NWLC. Those numbers are key indicia of schools’ performance under Title IX.
Participation opportunities are defined as the number of slots available for an individual student-athlete to be on a team.
Schools can become participation compliant in any one of three ways: Having a student-athlete population that is gender proportionate to the overall undergraduate student body, within an accepted margin of error; demonstrating a history of adding opportunities for the underrepresented sex; or proving action to ensure it is meeting the interests and abilities of students.
“Our goal at Rutgers is to be compliant with all three,” Hermann said. “Rutgers has a history — be it in participation or scholarships — of doing a great job. Our goal right now is to focus on the quality of their experience.”
But Rutgers was dealt a curveball in fiscal year 2014. That’s when it absorbed the population of New Jersey Medical School. For the first time in six years, the percentage of males in the student body dipped below 51 percent, to 50.3 percent, and the percentage of females topped 49 percent, rising to 49.7 percent. In figuring compliance with Title IX, those differences are important.
According to the data, 48.3 percent of Rutgers’ opportunities for sports participation — 694 opportunities across the spectrum of sports — existed on women’s teams. That percentage is slightly less — a differential of 1.4 percent — than the percentage of female Rutgers students.
The Title IX experts, however, said that the difference constitutes no violation through the prism of Title IX because the difference is smaller than the size of the average women’s team at Rutgers.
“If that 1.4 percent represents enough student-athletes that a new team can be formed,” said Sarah Axelson, advocacy and program manager for women’s Sports Foundation, “then you want to take a look and say, ‘Are they equitable? Are there student-athletes asking for a new team?’ ”
The 335 total participation opportunities across 12 sports for women at Rutgers ranked sixth from the bottom in the Big Ten. Again, Title IX deals in percentage comparisons, a strength for Rutgers.
“The proportion of women at Rutgers has gone up,” said Kate Hickey, Title IX coordinator for Rutgers athletics. “That has caused us to look at our roster sizes, and at ‘do we have the right balance of female participants versus male participants?’”
men’s ice hockey and men’s crew alumni recently started public pushes to gain varsity status, including contacting athletics officials. There are no known campaigns from women’s sports teams.
Rutgers surveys incoming freshmen through its enrollment pathways to gauge interest in sports not offered, Hickey said.
Gannett New Jersey obtained a partially redacted copy of the Hermann-ordered 2013 Title IX audit — it shows Rutgers was compliant in all three areas governed by Title IX — through an Open Public Records Act request.
Swift action was taken to correct the shortfalls that were uncovered, according to Hermann and Hickey.
Improvements included reorganizing the athletics communications staff to increase publicity efforts for women’s sports, chartering more women’s basketball flights and adding laundry service for the handful of teams for whom the convenience had slipped through the cracks.
“Sometimes we bring these people in from the outside for that very reason — to see the things we’re not seeing on a daily basis,” Hickey said. “It’s not that we’re not thinking about it. But if we’re not getting that information to know that there might be a disparity, it could be the accumulation of the little things that gets you caught up.”
Because treatment is the most complex and most subjective of the Title IX requirements, the Office of Civil Rights developed a “laundry list” of equivalent benefits that covers equipment, practice times, travel, tutoring, facilities, coaching quality, housing, recruiting, and medical and training services and more.
Rutgers was deemed equivalent in all measures of treatment studied during its 2013 audit and considered particularly strong in providing medical and training facilities and services and in the opportunity to receive tutoring and the assignment and compensation of tutors.
Title IX does not require identical benefits, budgets, opportunities, or treatment as long as the overall effect of any difference does not have a disparate impact on one sex.
While the NCAA tracks dollars spent in most of those areas, compliance is more complex than dollars and cents. Non-egregious differences can be explained away — men’s teams needing to travel farther to find the same caliber of opponent as women’s teams, for instance.
“If a school is providing top-line equipment to a football team and all of the women’s teams need to buy their own equipment then that is not equitable,” Axelson said. “How many athletes have access to excellent facilities? To fair facilities? Are those numbers equitable?”
In the long-term proposal for athletics facilities upgrades approved by Rutgers Board of Governors last month, three of the five tenants of the new multi-purpose facility and three of the five of the new built-up south end zone space at the football stadium are women’s teams.
The Hale Center — Rutgers’ primary training, administrative and academic resource facility for student-athletes — would become a football-only facility.
“We have a lot of work to do in terms of creating upgraded training spaces for our women,” Hermann said.
Hickey monitors everything from which teams distribute posters to number of appearances per year on the school-run RVision online streaming sports network.
Rutgers women’s basketball coach C. Vivian Stringer, whose Hall of Fame career precedes Title IX, declined an interview request, but one of her team’s leaders offered a comparative perspective.
“Everything the guys have, we have,” outgoing senior Christa Evans said. “Whether it’s clothes, whether it’s food, we get that, too. I think it’s evenly balanced out. We’re grateful for Title IX, because it would be a struggle without it.”
As a total program law, Title IX does not require measure-for-measure equality. Thus, an enhancement for men’s soccer could be offset with one for field hockey, for example.
“Anything my program has needed here, our needs have been met,” said field hockey coach Meredith Long, who last year requested and received new video equipment to stay on top of changing replay rules in her sport. “Rutgers wants to keep up and compete.”
With the NCAA equivalency of 131 scholarships for women’s student-athletes compared to 144 for men’s in Fiscal Year 2014, Rutgers committed 47.6 percent of its financial aid dollars to women, according to its annual revenue and expense report submitted to the NCAA.
With an unduplicated student-athlete population of 603 at Rutgers that is made up of 47.4 percent women, Rutgers appears to be compliant with room to spare, based on our analysis.
But Rutgers is behind the curve in the conference as only seven of its 12 women’s sports are either fully funded or within one scholarship equivalency of the NCAA limit. By comparison, Ohio State fully funds all 14 of its women’s sports.
That matters in recruiting.
“It’s a selling point to be able to say we’re fully funded,” said women’s soccer coach Mike O’Neill, who has been part of the program for 15 years. “That is a question that the majority of the families ask: Are they behind the women’s soccer program? Yeah, they are.”
However, using a different calculation for financial aid, Equity in Athletics Data reports submitted to the U.S. Department of Education reveal Rutgers committed 46 percent of financial aid to women — 1.4 percentage points less than the school’s female population.
The 1.4 percent differential falls outside the Title IX-accepted 1 percent margin of error but still is closer to its respective target marks than eight other Big Ten schools.
“The truth is that we have some enforcement from the federal government,” said Chaudhry, the NWLC representative. “But it falls to individuals to bring complaints and we need schools to step up and do their job and meet their obligations.”
The age of stipends
The new cost-of-attendance stipends represent new terrain for the NCAA. The payments will be an added benefit for college student-athletes, though still not the full-on, “pay for play” compensation seen in professional sports. The stipends were born out of recent challenges to the NCAA’s model of amateurism.
Former Northwestern football players led a movement to unionize as employees of the school. A federal judge ruled that the NCAA cannot stop student-athletes from selling the rights to their names, images and likenesses used in broadcasts and video games.
The money at stake is huge, as college sports have become big business for the NCAA and television networks. For example, ESPN reportedly will pay $5.64 billion over the next 12 years to air the College Football Playoff system.
Rutgers has not announced the amount of its stipends or designated who will be the recipients, but CollegeData.com estimated that attending the school during the 2014-15 school year required $2,763 in miscellaneous expenses not covered by a full athletic scholarship.
The NCAA will distribute about $55,000 to all of the nearly 350 Division I schools to help cover the cost of the stipends. The first payments will be made in June 2016.
The dollar amount given by the schools needs to be proportionate with the student-athlete pool, experts say. Against that backdrop, as long as Rutgers earmarks 47.4 percent of its stipends budget to women — women make up that percentage of student-athlete spots — it ought to meet Title IX muster.
“It’s athletic financial aid,” Hickey said, “and therefore it falls under Title IX pretty squarely. The dollars that you are going to invest in cost of attendance get put into that bottom line.”
Entering her third year at Rutgers, Hermann is one of only three female athletic directors at the 65 schools in the Power Five conferences.
But the investment in women at Rutgers began long before the current regime’s arrival.
“Ensuring that we balance those opportunities is something that literally has to happen,” Hermann said. “The truth is if we went over to any other part of the university and said we are going to have 100 full scholarships for guys in the business school and 15 for women no one would stand for that. No one would say that was fair.”
Staff writer Ryan Dunleavy: firstname.lastname@example.org
WOMEN ON THE RISE
The percentage of female undergraduates at Rutgers University in 2014 reached its highest point since 2007. A look at the percentages over the last eight years.
A FAIR SHARE
A look at how the Big Ten stacks up in financial aid to female athletes.
(Schools ranked by Percentage Difference; % Female Athletes = The percentage of student-athletes at the school that are female; % Female Aid = The percentage of financial aid given to female student-athletes; % Difference = The percentage difference between the two prior categories.)
* Information based on Equity in Data Athletics reports submitted to the U.S. Department of Education for 2014
A look at athletic participation opportunities for women at each school in the Big Ten and the percentage of those roster spots against overall athletic opportunities. (Schools ranked by percentage; Percentage noted in parenthesis.)
1. Wisconsin…521 (52.0)
2. Minnesota…501 (51.5)
3. Northwestern…248 (50.8)
4. Michigan State…456 (49.8)
5. Michigan…509 (49.6)
6. Rutgers…335 (48.3)
7. Maryland…290 (48.0)
8. Iowa…384 (47.8)
9. Indiana…371 (46.9)
10. Ohio State…480 (45.9)
11. Penn State…429 (45.3)
12. Purdue…291 (44.3)
13. Illinois…266 (42.3)
14. Nebraska…325 (40.5)
* Information based on Equity in Data Athletics reports submitted to the U.S. Department of Education for 2014
PHOTO: Rutgers Athletics Communications