In striving for excellence, William and Mary Athletics addresses shortcomings in equity

Staff writer

As the College of William and Mary’s athletic program strives for excellence equal in caliber to the school’s highly-regarded academic experience, it cites gender equity as a challenge and a priority.

Some background:

» The school enrolls about 2,615 men and 3,577 women

» Although there are 10 women’s varsity sports teams and nine men’s varsity sports teams, there are 35 more men student-athletes than women

» The school spends about $4.1 million more a year on men’s teams and $315,332 more on head coaching salaries for men’s teams, according to Equity in Athletics Data from mid-2017 to mid-2018

» The data did not include any information on gender equity in senior leadership in athletics

The program’s 2018 strategic review, which used data from January through July 2018, alluded to gender equity as it addressed shortcomings and ultimate roadblocks to success.

The program is undertaking an external review of its Title IX status, Athletic Director Samantha Huge said. Achieving gender equity — or coming close to it — is a goal she hopes to meet by 2025.

According to a draft of William and Mary Athletics’ strategic plan, which is expected to be released in the fall, the department will seek to “adjust team rosters and funding to improve the balance of opportunity and support across men’s and women’s teams, reducing the size of the participation gap each year.”

The plan defines gender equity as providing appropriate opportunities for women and men who want to compete at the intercollegiate level considering participation, facilities and student-athlete support. Huge said it’s important to address gender equity as more women than men enroll in colleges.

“That’s a lofty goal. I think it’s a lofty challenge across the board for the university ... It’s always a challenge to ensure we are complying with Title IX not only because it’s legal — it’s the right thing to do,” she said at a Town Hall meeting in June.

“And so we have set a course … the general counsel’s office engaged an outside expert to help us get to a plan that we’re able to achieve gender equity or come very close … and we are moving in that direction,” Huge said. “But it is something that is front of mind as a woman. I am absolutely successful and I’m in the position I’m in because of Title IX.”

In 2021, the athletic department will develop a Gender Equity Plan with goals to be accomplished by 2025. In addition, it plans to expand education and training on issues associated with gender equity in annual workshops for the whole athletics community.

Although William and Mary Athletics recognizes it has a gender equity problem, it hasn’t received any formal complaints. Title IX Coordinator and Chief Compliance Officer Pamela Mason makes sure William and Mary is in compliance with federal, state and institutional regulations.

Certain departments, such as athletics, handle their own compliance. However, if there is a complaint it would go through Mason’s office.

“If we receive a complaint that we’re not in compliance, then we have to respond to that complaint and show why we think we are or explain what happened and show how we’re going to become compliant,” Mason said.

Equal athletic opportunity

Equity and equality are not the same things, explained Jodi Balsam, a sports law professor at Brooklyn Law School and NYU School of Law, co-author of Sports and the Law and formerly a lawyer for the National Football League. Equity in athletics is often defined as an equal athletic opportunity.

“It’s not required to be identical, but there has to be some degree of equal opportunity, so the catchphrase is equal athletic opportunity,” Balsam said. “It doesn’t require statistical parity or even exactly equal aggregate spending, but there’s sort of a factor test: Do the opportunities afforded the sexes effectively accommodate their relative interests and abilities, are their facilities and equipment and supplies, medical training services comparable?”

The Department of Education’s Title IX Resource Guide on athletics prohibits sex discrimination with respect to men and women student athletic interests and abilities, benefits and opportunities and financial assistance.

The Equity in Athletics Disclosure Act requires co-educational universities that participate in the federal student financial assistance program and have an intercollegiate athletic program, annually to disclose things like athletic participation, staffing and revenues and expenses of men’s and women’s sports teams to the Department of Education.

If the participation opportunities for men and women are proportionate to their respective enrollments, that’s basically a safe harbor, Balsam said.

When it comes to financial assistance, the NCAA mandates the maximum about of scholarship money that can be allocated to each sport.

While William and Mary doesn’t have the funding to provide full scholarship support for every sport, it considers fundraising, a sport’s visibility and gender equity when handing out money, said Pete Clawson, senior assistant athletics director.

According to Balsam, schools “will look at the budgets, they’ll look at the number of scholarships being awarded to men and women, and that needs to be proportionate to their participation. So you can’t just decide that the school might have proportionate representation but half of the athletes that are male are getting scholarships and only 10% of athletes that are female are getting scholarships. That will present a Title IX problem.”

“There are exceptions,” she said. “For example, some sports are simply more expensive to run, like football.”

For William and Mary, football costs about $6.9 million a year in team expenses, according to the data. That’s more than $4 million more than men’s basketball, the only other sport that comes anywhere close.

As far as diversity in the student-athlete population, 67% are white and 13% are African American, according to the strategic review. In the fall of 2018, 59% of the undergraduate population was white and 7.2% was African American, according to the university’s factbook.

Women and people of color are under-represented on the athletics staff. Of 135 full-time staff cited in the review, 70% are male and 30% are female. Only 14% are people of color. Among the 95 head and assistant coaches, 83% are male and 17% are female.

“By not having a more diverse and inclusive environment, W&M Athletics may be viewed by some as privileged and elitist,” the strategic review said.

Although since the review, senior leadership in athletics has diversified, Clawson said. There are more people of color and more women than men.

For women’s sports teams, there are six full-time male head coaches and four full-time female head coaches. None of the head coaches for men’s sports teams are women. The male head coaches for track and field, cross country, golf and swimming coach both the men’s and women’s teams.

Bianca Boggs, a former basketball athlete at William and Mary and a 2019 graduate, said she felt good about the diversity in the student-athlete population, but thinks the coaching staff could represent their players more.

Ed Swanson has been the head women’s basketball coach since 2013. The team has three women assistant coaches.

“As always, I do think it could be a little better and in terms of the coaching, as memory serves, I’m not sure if the coaching staffs across the board are as diverse as they could be and I definitely think they could represent the players that they have on their teams better,” Boggs said. “I’ve had an array of assistant coaches — all females — of all different races, so that was something that I definitely appreciated and benefited from.”

The head coaching staff of men’s teams make an average of $55,094 more a year than head coaches of women’s teams.

However, Mike London and Dane Fischer, football and men's basketball head coaches, have considerably higher salaries than the rest of the coaching staff, skewing the salary average of men’s teams higher. Together, they make $575,000 in annual base salary, not including guaranteed incentives.

In other sports, some women head coaches make more money than their male counterparts. Women’s Head Soccer Coach Julie Shackford makes $90,000 a year and Men’s Head Soccer Coach Chris Norris makes $69,100, according to their contracts.

The largest determining factor for coaching staff salaries is what the market dictates, Clawson said, including other factors, such as experience.

Men’s varsity athletes received about $492,620 more in athletically-related student aid last year. The program spends more than double in recruiting expenses for men’s teams than women’s.

The total annual expense for men’s basketball was about $2.1 million. Women’s basketball costs about $1.7 million. Both teams broke even in revenue, according to the data.

Boggs said she’s not surprised to find out the difference in costs for men’s and women’s basketball.

“I’m not too shocked. Men’s basketball definitely draws a bigger crowd and has more of a presence put upon them … whether it’s their equipment, their training, in the game, the staff and everything like that,” Boggs said. “I definitely don’t think we were made to feel that monetary difference.”

As a female athlete, Boggs said she and most of her teammates felt they deserved the same kind of attention as their male counterparts, but she recognizes it as more of a societal issue.

She said everyone within William and Mary, from the training staff to the strength and conditioning staff, put time and energy into their success. And she didn’t notice any difference in attention given to male or female athletes.

“I think having more of a hand in academic support would be better which I’ve already told (Huge) and she said they’re working on it,” Boggs said. “I think they’re moving in the right direction and any issues we do have we have been able to voice completely and openly and honestly which I think that line of communication is great. I’m optimistic about the future.”

The university will study the issues and create a plan to move forward incrementally, Clawson wrote in an email.

Down the road

In a couple of years, new NCAA guidelines may shake up equity efforts for Division I schools. A former West Virginia football player brought an antitrust lawsuit against the NCAA, arguing student-athletes of revenue-generating sports should be able to receive compensation.

New guidelines resulting from the suit could allow schools to offer benefits to student-athletes so long as they could be reasonably presented as academic in nature. For example, schools could incentivize student-athletes with all-expense-paid study abroad trips or laptops, Balsam said.

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals said it expects to take the case, according to ESPN.

“If there was an outpouring of additional benefits as a result of this lawsuit to the revenue-generating sports, no doubt there (could be) legitimate Title IX claims that comparable or similar resources need to be dedicated to the women's teams,” Balsam said. “This puts Division I universities in a real bind.”

Clawson said the program’s strategic plan is a living document that will change as the landscape of intercollegiate athletics changes.

“I think it’s important to know that the strategic plan is a living document… I expect it will continue to change as every year goes by, even maybe by the month,” Clawson said. “Details within it are going to ebb and flow as the world changes around us.”

The Virginia Gazette wrote an overview of William and Mary’s athletic program here.

SaraRose Martin, sararose.martin@vagazette.com, 757-243-3685, @SaraRoseMartin.

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