We had some questions about how UCLA was counting its female athletes.
In its report on gender equity, it listed 127 female rowers on its team. But the school’s website said there were only 45. Rachel de Leon, a producer for Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting, knew there was a document that could clear it up.
It’s called a squad list. It’s a complete tally a school sends to the National Collegiate Athletic Association and the document a federal investigator would use if a school was thought to be out of compliance with Title IX, the gender equity law. The list has the names of every athlete on every team.
She got that document, but it didn’t provide much clarity.
De Leon got the document from the university under the California Public Records Act. But as you can see, school officials pretty much blacked out everything.
Let’s back up. What’s Title IX? It’s a historic law meant to end gender discrimination in schools. Passed in 1972, the law states:
No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.
Right after Title IX passed, 42 percent of college students were women. Now, almost 44 years later, more than 55 percent of college students are women.
Most people would agree that this is progress, but schools are having a hard time matching their athletic departments to its student-body makeup. So we wanted to take a closer look at how schools comply with Title IX in regard to sports participation.
Schools can pick three ways to comply with the law. One of those ways is through a concept called substantial proportionality. It says women and men in a school’s athletic program should reflect the proportion of women and men in the general student body.
UCLA, for example, uses this guideline to comply with the law. Its numbers look right on paper, according to last year’s Equity in Athletics Data Analysis report, the only public report available for students to see where their schools stand.
So de Leon reached out to UCLA for its squad lists for all sports, including the women’s rowing team she was zeroing in on.
Which brings us back to this ridiculously redacted result:
The university claimed that in redacting players’ names, it was protecting their privacy. But players’ personal details are broadcasted out into the world in other contexts – like on the back of their uniforms, when announced during games or in sports coverage of the teams.
Luckily, another university gave de Leon its squad list with players’ names without sacrificing the privacy of its students.
That other school was the University of Alabama:
De Leon and Senior Editor Andrew Donohue decided to go back to UCLA and challenge its redactions. They argued that the school already released this information on players routinely.
The rowers squad list that de Leon finally got had 130 names on it – 85 more than the online roster and pretty close to the 127 counted on the Equity in Athletics Data Analysis report. She called as many of those 85 people as she could to see if they ever participated on the team for which they were counted.
Out of the 64 people she reached, more than two-thirds of the students (or their parents) said they were not on the team last year.
And the point of all of this is: This isn’t just a technicality. It’s a signal of how UCLA defines true participation of female athletes and raises the question of whether the school is complying with Title IX.