The NCAA’s Title IX probably apparently is never going away. (Jae C. Hong/AP, File)

To comply with Title IX, the federal law that mandates equal opportunities for men and women, the percentage of athletic opportunities for female athletes at a U.S. college must be roughly proportional to the percentage of female students at the school. This was a problem for Florida Atlantic University, which in 2016 found that women comprised more than half of its student population but only 31 percent of its athletes, the lowest percentage of any Division I school.

So what did the Boca Raton university do? According to Kenny Jacoby of the Palm Beach Post, FAU counted dozens of students who did not exist in the Title IX compliance numbers it submitted to the U.S. Department of Education, increasing the school’s female athletic participation rate by 20 percentage points in just one year.

“FAU reported having 98 women’s track athletes,” Jacoby writes. “The roster showed no more than 43, and the team photo showed 38.

“The 98 women, FAU claimed, occupied 222 roster spots on its cross-country, indoor track and outdoor track teams, more than any women’s track program among the 127 major sports schools.”

The university, however, says that Jacoby’s report is “inaccurate” and “misleading,” and claims that the discrepancy was “a clerical error,” that it alerted Jacoby to prior to his story being published. In a statement released Friday, FAU said that Jacoby “intentionally ran the story based on knowingly inaccurate data, rather than waiting for the updated report.”

The conclusions drawn by the reporter are based on the 2016-17 EADA report filed by FAU. Following the reporter’s initial inquiry regarding information in the report, FAU became aware of inaccuracies in the data and alerted the reporter, before publication, of the clerical errors made by a former employee of the university. FAU offered to provide the updated data expeditiously to the reporter, but the reporter intentionally ran the story based on knowingly inaccurate data, rather than waiting for the updated report.

The university has now revised that information in a corrected report, which will be filed with the U.S. Department of Education using its correction procedures.

The revised report shows that in 2016-2017, female student-athletes received a balanced 49.0 percent of FAU’s athletic participation opportunities. This is consistent with FAU’s upward trend in female athletic participation opportunities since it added NCAA women’s beach volleyball in 2012, which was FAU’s third new varsity sport for women since 2000.

In regard to FAU’s allocation of athletic scholarships, the revised report shows that in 2016-2017, 43.1 percent of FAU’s student-athletes were female and they received 45.0 percent of FAU’s athletic scholarship dollars, for a 1.9 percent difference in favor of female student-athletes.

FAU takes its responsibility to provide equitable athletic participation opportunities extremely seriously. Under federal guidelines, there are three alternative benchmarks for the university to meet that obligation. In recent years, FAU complied with the second prong of the federal guidelines, which require the university to demonstrate a history and continuing practice of program expansion. Between 2007 and 2015, the total number of NCAA participation opportunities for female student-athletes grew from 139 to 266. The addition of beach volleyball in 2012 continued FAU’s practice of expanding opportunities for female student-athletes. We currently are studying whether to continue that trajectory or pursue a different compliance option for future years. FAU already competes in all Conference USA sports for women and the university continues to explore new opportunities, both in existing and emerging sports, to build championship teams in women’s athletics.

In the meantime, our existing women’s’ teams continue to thrive. This year, FAU’s softball team advanced to the Conference USA championship game for the third time in the last four years. Its beach volleyball team was ranked in the top 25 nationally for the past two years, and two FAU beach volleyball players, Jessalyn Kinlaw and Mackenzie Morris, just competed in the USAV Collegiate Beach Championships in Hermosa Beach, California. The Women’s Tennis team reached the Conference USA semi-finals for the first time in FAU history, and star player Aliona Bolsova was named Conference USA Women’s Tennis Player of the Year.

The university is enormously proud of all its student-athletes.

Jacoby reported that when reached for comment, one FAU spokeswoman indeed called the discrepancy “a clerical error.” Another spokeswoman told him the employee who compiled and submitted the numbers no longer works for the school, even though the “reporting official” listed on the report, Brian Battle, remains at the school as senior associate athletic director for internal operations. The school claims another staff member filed the numbers on Battle’s behalf.

Such actions hardly are unusual, and such number-fudging has been going on for years at other universities. In 2011, the New York Times uncovered similar practices at a number of universities that were trying to gain compliance with Title IX. In 2009-10, for instance, the University of South Florida reported 71 women on its cross-country team, but race results show only 28 competed in at least one race. Marshall University added three freshman walk-ons to its women’s tennis team even though its coach “knew they were not good enough to practice against his scholarship athletes,” the Times’ Katie Thomas reported, adding that the walk-ons were not required to attend practice and did not travel with the team.

Schools such as Cornell and Texas A&M even exploited a loophole that allowed them to count male athletes who only participate as practice helpers as members of their women’s teams. Another school, the University of California-Irvine, reported having a women’s indoor track team that, for all intents and purposes, did not exist.

As Jacoby writes, the U.S. Department of Education has struggled to crack down on such faulty accounting because of the sheer amount of complaints it receives per year, a number Jacobs pegs in the thousands. The department can “limit, suspend, terminate or fine an institution that provides inaccurate information,” a spokeswoman told Jacoby.

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