We've reached out to multiple people that are experts in Title IX, compliance, and other areas to help us sort through this. But our first questions went right to the author of the original story, Katie Thomas from the New York Times. Many thanks to Katie for her time . You can see all of Katie's work for The Gray Lady here, and follow her on Twitter at @katie_thomas.
1. How did you come across this story in the first place? USF women's cross country is a pretty narrow niche, how did you find this specific team as an example?
THOMAS: Along with my colleague, Griffin Palmer, we analyzed federal participation data from every Division I school. I noticed that South Florida had a very high female-to-male participation ratio in track, even though the school had a cross country, indoor and outdoor track team for both sexes. I requested several documents from South Florida in order to learn more, including NCAA squad lists and gender-equity reports. The squad lists offered a more detailed breakdown of each running team and I noticed that the cross country team was very large. I then took a look at several of the athletes listed and noticed that, according to the Web site, many of them were track and field specialists and not distance runners.
2. We're still sorting through this as well, but though what USF is doing might not be in the spirit of the law, it certainly might be legal. Do you see any legal consequences from this?
THOMAS: As with any university, the Office for Civil Rights could initiate an investigation, or a member of the public could file a lawsuit. I am not in a position to analyze what the outcomes of either might be.
More with Ms. Thomas after the jump:
3. You spoke with Russlynn H. Ali, the assistant education secretary, who said the standard is a "meaningful participation opportunity." Can you expand a bit more on what that actually means and represents?
THOMAS: The Office for Civil Rights defines a participant as someone who is receiving institutionally sponsored support (such as coaching, equipment etc) and who is participating in organized practice sessions or other team meetings on a regular basis, and who is listed on eligibility or squad lists. Someone who is injured but who cannot participate due to injury -- but who is still receiving financial aid because of athletic ability -- can also be counted.
4. Bill McGillis, whom you spoke with for your piece, said yesterday to St. Pete Times reporter Greg Auman: "You can take all those (questionable) numbers away, and we're still in conformity (with Title IX)," executive athletic director Bill McGillis said. "If your premise is that we are including kids on the cross country roster who are not participating in cross country in order to comply with the proportionality piece of Title IX, that would be false."
Did you do any examination of potentially revised rosters to that new standard? Were they still in compliance with the proportionality prong of Title IX?
THOMAS: The Office for Civil Rights decides whether universities are in compliance with Title IX on a case-by-case basis, so it is tough to say with certainty whether any university is in compliance or not. As a general rule, the Office for Civil Rights calculates how many female athletes a university would have to add to reach exact proportionality. If that number exceeds the size of an average team and if it would be viable to add such a team (if there was sufficient interest or available competition, for example), then they are judged not to be in compliance. Here's the document that spells out their policy.
5. How much cooperation did you receive from USF and the athletics communications staff? How did you contact the current and former student-athletes you quoted? Was there anyone you wanted to talk to that wouldn't speak with you?
THOMAS: The officials at South Florida were extremely helpful and responsive to my requests and questions, as were the current and former athletes I spoke to.
Thanks again to Ms. Thomas, and as the other people we've asked to talk to respond, we'll post them here as soon as possible.