Millersville has found itself in a sticky situation since last Thursday, when a women’s legal advocacy group filed a complaint against the university and eight other Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PSSHE) schools for not providing equal opportunities for female athletes.
The allegations, sent to the U.S. Department of Civil Rights by the Women’s Law Project, cites violations of Title IX, which precipitated from the Education Amendments of 1972 and prohibits the discrimination on the basis of sex by any means. The other PSSHE universities named in the complaint include Bloomsburg, Cheyney, Clarion, Indiana, Kutztown, Lock Haven, Mansfield and Shippensburg.
“Millersville does not and has not provided athletic opportunities to female students substantially proportionate to their enrollment,” the complaint states.
The numbers they chose to focus on was the percentage of undergraduate females versus the percentage of athletic participation within that same scope. In the most recently updated year, 2012-13, the percentage gap between the two was at 5.32 percent. Because of this imbalance, “Millersville must add 54 additional athletic opportunities for women in order to provide athletic opportunities,” the file described.
After being forwarded to the State System’s Chancellor’s office, The Snapper received this message from Kenn Marshall, spokesman for PSSHE:
“All of our universities take their responsibilities under Title IX very seriously. Despite being faced with changing demographics in the state—which have resulted in relatively flat or even declining enrollments across the System—as well as significant, long-term financial challenges, all of the institutions have made progress toward achieving gender equity in the area of athletic participation.
“We are committed to achieving the appropriate balance so all of our students have equal opportunities to participate in the entire range of activities, including athletics, that help make the complete college experience so rewarding.”
This problem, however, has persisted since 2003, the feminist group insists. That year, the percentage of undergraduate women enrolled at Millersville was 56.28, while the percentage of those women involved with athletics was only at 42.75. From then until 2012, the participation gap floated along the 10 percent and 14 percent mark.
That was until Millersville started to chip down men’s athletics last year.
In 2013, men’s cross country as well as indoor and outdoor track and field found themselves underneath the guillotine. The cuts bid adieu to 35 male athletes, according to current women’s indoor and outdoor track and field, Andy Young.
“It hurt a lot of people involved in our program,” he said. “Reality is, they lost a lot of students for a program that cost them virtually nothing … I feel like that was a decision that should’ve been looked at a little closer.”
And, if Young has anything to say about what may come of these allegations, the last thing he wants to see is another men’s team get the same treatment—heck, he doesn’t feel like the imbalance is even an issue.
“It’s not a problem,” Young said adamantly. “There are plenty of opportunities.”
Although there is still a slight participation gap of 5.32 percent after the chipping down of certain men’s clubs, the women still trump the men in terms of choices. Men have seven different teams to choose from while women have 11; volleyball, track and field, lacrosse, softball and swimming allow the women to have the edge in terms of number of sports.
So, then, where does the problem lie?
“The reason the numbers don’t jive—the specifics don’t work—[is] women don’t stick all the time with sports,” he added.
Alluding to his own personal experiences as a women’s head coach, he has consistently seen female participation fizzle out from 40-something athletes to 30-something over the course of the season.
“They don’t necessarily stay,” Young said. “Society-wise, men typically do stay.”
According to the track and field coach, women’s propensity for not keeping up with participation within a particular sport does play a role. Another, however, is the black and gold elephant in the room: football—that is, according to Max DiGiulio, head coach of Millersville’s women’s recreational rugby team.
“Football is number one,” he said, referring to the hefty number of male athletes involved on the club with 90—the closest female team sport, soccer, lags behind with 27; “There is no other women’s sport that comes close in numbers to that.”
Unfortunately, the decision whether to cut a program or not may boil down to one lingering problem.
“It basically comes down to a monetary issue,” said DiGiulio, head coach of the recreational women’s rugby team on campus. “It’s easier and cheaper to cut an old program to fund a new program.”
In terms of possible men’s programs that could be on the chopping block next, Millersville sources weren’t ready to speculate; however, the smallest male teams are tennis—with eight members, respectively—and golf—with 11 members, respectively.
Both tennis coach Shari Bucklin-Webber and golf coach Scott Vandegrift did not make themselves available to comment on the subject.
In terms of possible women’s programs that could be added, on the other hand, Young and DiGiulio both agree that women’s rugby could be a top contender.
“I will say I read all nine of the complaints,” began Young. “They really want to see women’s rugby become an NCAA sport … it was pretty plain to me that it mentioned women’s rugby over and over.”
That certainly comes as music to DiGiulio’s ears.
“I think it would be a great idea for the university to add women’s rugby as a varsity sport,” said DiGiulio. “I hope they would give it serious consideration since the sport is growing in popularity in many high school programs across the country.”
Over the past few years, Rugby’s relevance has rapidly escalated. In a 2010 study by America’s Sporting Goods Manufacturers’ Association, based on a survey of the participation of 120 sports in total, rugby usurped the entire field as the fastest growing team sport in the United States.
Right now, there are seven different women’s rugby programs across the nation, including fellow PSSHE school West Chester, which took the leap in 2004. Additionally, two more varsity programs will be implemented in the 2014-15 school year, Life University and Central Washington University.
Only time will tell if Millersville will be the next on that list; nevertheless, DiGiulio would be more than happy to embrace a new role in Millersville athletics.
“It would be a tremendous honor to be recognized as one of only two of the universities in the state to have a women’s varsity program,” he said.