Thirty-eight years after Congress passed Title IX, women fill fewer roster spots and earn fewer athletic scholarship dollars than men both locally and nationwide.
At the five Division I schools in the area -- the University of Pittsburgh, Penn State, West Virginia, Duquesne and Robert Morris universities -- 46.9 percent of all undergraduate students in 2008-09 were women, but just 41.2 percent of all athletes were women, according to Equity in Athletics Disclosure Act filings. At each school, women accounted for a smaller percentage of athletes than they do undergraduate students.
Women at those universities earned 43.5 percent of all athletic scholarship dollars that same year. Only at Robert Morris did women earn a larger percentage of athletic financial aid than they made up the student body.
"Some of these numbers cause great concern," said Nancy Hogshead-Makar, a professor of law at the Florida Coastal School of Law and senior director of advocacy at the Women's Sports Foundation.
But, she said, they are common.
Nationwide, 57 percent of all college students are women, according to the American Council on Education. But in the 2008-09 academic year, women accounted for just 40 percent of all college athletes, according to Equity in Athletics Disclosure Act filings.
That means almost 100,000 more men played varsity college athletics in 2008-09 than women. That same year, men earned more than $227 million more in athletic financial aid than women.
For the most part, the disparities exist because Title IX allows them to.
Neena Chaudhry, senior counsel at the National Women's Law Center, called Title IX a "very flexible" and "very lenient" law. Passed in 1972, Title IX is a federal law that requires all schools that receive federal assistance to provide equal opportunities to women and men.
For instance, a school's gender distribution of its athletes does not have to mirror its enrollment as long as it can prove it has met all the interests of its underrepresented gender or that it has a history of expanding athletic opportunities for the underrepresented gender.
"There are not very many laws where you can comply by showing that you're making progress," Ms. Chaudhry said.
Ms. Hogshead-Makar said it is difficult to tell if a school is in violation of Title IX by just looking at statistics because the law allows for wiggle room and explanation. Generally, that wiggle room benefits male athletes.
Nearly four decades after its implementation, Title IX has succeeded in expanding opportunities for girls and women, but it has failed to bring equality.
"Women's participation is still low," Ms. Chaudhry said. "The problem is that we're not as far along the path of equity as we should be, and I think people are often surprised by that and would like us to say Title IX's work is done."
At best, the law is murky; it is complex, lacks enforcement and allows considerable margin for error.
That leaves schools on their own to interpret and follow the law, which often creates confusion.
"I could not sit here and say we're in compliance," said Terri Howes, West Virginia's associate athletic director of sports development and the athletic department's senior woman administrator. "I don't know if we're in compliance or not. We feel pretty good about the direction we're going, but it's a moving target."
The law made headlines last month when a judge ruled Quinnipiac University, a private school in Connecticut known mostly for political polling, had violated Title IX when it cut its women's volleyball program and replaced it with competitive cheerleading as a cost-saving measure.
Ms. Hogshead-Makar said schools should pay attention to the Quinnipiac case because the ruling could have lasting effects on the way a school determines its number of athletes.
For Title IX purposes, there are two ways to determine the number of athletes at an institution.
The first is by counting the number of athletic opportunities at a school, even if one athlete is counted multiple times. This figure, called the duplicated count, is used to compare athletic participation to enrollment.
The second is by counting the number of athletes at a school, regardless how many sports they play. This figure, the unduplicated count, is used to compare athletic participation to scholarship distribution.
At Quinnipiac, women who ran on the cross country team also ran for indoor and outdoor track teams, which allowed the school to count one female athlete three times for participation figures. By doing that, the school came closer to meeting necessary ratios to comply with Title IX's participation and financial aid distribution requirements.
Women are more likely to be multisport athletes at colleges nationwide, which inflates their numbers in the duplicated count and allows colleges to better match male-to-female athlete ratios to enrollment ratios. But since they account for a smaller percentage of athletes in the unduplicated count, women are entitled to fewer athletic scholarship dollars.
U.S. District Judge Stefan Underhill ruled Quinnipiac could not count some runners who participate in those three sports three separate times. At Pitt, Penn State, West Virginia and Duquesne, more women were considered multisport athletes than men. At West Virginia, such disparities were attributed to its track and cross country athletes.
Ms. Hogshead-Makar said similar inequitable practices existed nationwide because they have never been questioned.
Schools can be found in violation of Title IX only when they are challenged -- typically by a group whose team has been cut by the school or by interest groups. While the Office for Civil Rights administers the law, it takes action only when it receives a complaint.
"A lawsuit is very expensive," Ms. Hogshead-Makar said. "You can't really sue your way into compliance."
Though the law remains cloudy, clear trends exist.
Using the most recent Equity in Athletics Disclosure Act figures, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette analyzed gender equity among five local Division I athletic programs -- Pitt, Penn State, West Virginia, Duquesne and Robert Morris.
At Pitt, data show athletic participation rates and scholarship distribution skew to benefit male athletes.
Men made up 48.8 percent of the undergraduate student body in 2008-09, but they accounted for 53.2 percent of duplicated athletes. That number grew to 59.5 percent in the unduplicated count.
Men's teams received 61.7 percent of athletic aid in 2008-09, the largest percentage of any Big East school.
Pitt's 2.2 percentage point gap between athletic aid and unduplicated participation is more than the 1 percentage point margin of error generally allowed by the Office for Civil Rights in complying with Title IX.
But the university disputes the Equity in Athletics Disclosure Act figures because those are not the numbers it uses to meet federal regulations, athletic director Steve Pederson said.
"One cannot necessarily draw accurate conclusions about Title IX compliance from the information reported on EADA forms," Richard Holmes, Pitt's associate general counsel, wrote in an e-mail.
The university said that when summer aid and scholarship dollars distributed to medically ineligible students were removed from Pitt's 2008-09 athletic scholarship payout, men received 59.2 percent of scholarship dollars. That brings Pitt's athletic scholarship distribution within 1 percentage point of the university's athletic gender distribution.
Summer aid and aid given to medically ineligible athletes do not count against a school for gender equity purposes.
But similar gaps exist between Pitt's male athletic participation and its male athletic scholarship distribution in recent years. In 2007-08, the gap was 3.0 percentage points. In 2005-06, it was 1.6 percentage points, and in 2003-04, it was 2.2 percentage points.
Though the university said those were not accurate measures of Title IX compliance, it declined to provide its own data.
"That information is complicated," Pitt athletic spokesman E.J. Borghetti wrote in an e-mail, "and because of the press of other business, we simply are not in a position to continue to compile and explain data."
Pitt was the only one of the five schools, according to Equity in Athletics Disclosure Act figures, where women earned a smaller portion of athletic financial aid than they accounted for total athletes in every year dating to the 2003-04 academic year -- the last available data.
Mr. Pederson said Pitt's athletic distribution is substantially proportionate to its enrollment. In 2008-09, the gap between female undergraduate enrollment (51.2 percent) and duplicated athletic participation (46.8 percent) was 4.4 percentage points, meaning it would take about 23 more female athletes to bridge the gap, according to Equity in Athletics Disclosure Act figures.
In 2007-08, the gap was only 2.1 percentage points (or 13 athletes), but in every academic year from 2003-07, the gap was at least 7.3 percentage points, including an 8.2 percentage point difference in 2006-07. In each of those years, it would have taken more than 40 female athletes to bridge the gap.
Despite the statistical disparities, one Pitt alumna said female athletes were treated equally. Basketball player Shavonte Zellous, now a guard with the WNBA's Indiana Fever, said she did not believe that Pitt's athletic department discriminated against women.
"Whatever [men] got, they wanted us to get," Ms. Zellous said. "There was no favoritism there."
Mr. Pederson used Pitt's women's basketball team as an example of the school's commitment to equality. When the university sought a new radio partner for its football and men's basketball teams, Mr. Pederson said any deal had to include a broadcast deal for Pitt's women's basketball games. Pitt football and men's basketball games will air live on 93.7 The Fan while Pitt women's basketball games will air live on 1320 WJAS-AM.
"We're in compliance with Title IX," Mr. Pederson said, "and it's been a priority here to not only have growth but great success for female student athletes."
Athletic participation rates and scholarship distribution also favor male athletes at Penn State.
Men accounted for 54.8 percent of the student body in 2008-09 and 57.1 percent of duplicated athletes that same year. Men were 59.5 percent of unduplicated athletes, and men's teams received 59.8 percent of athletic aid -- the largest percentage of any Big Ten team.
But its 0.3 percentage point gap between aid distribution and athletic participation is within the 1 percentage point guideline.
Penn State athletic director Tim Curley said he was "comfortable" with the school's scholarship distribution because he said it met Title IX guidelines.
"We provide the full NCAA scholarship amounts to all of our women's sports," Mr. Curley said.
Brianne O'Rourke, a former Penn State women's basketball player who recently signed a contract to play with the Chemnitz Cats, a professional team in Germany, said Penn State female athletes received the same benefits as male athletes.
"Everything the men get, we get," she said, noting similarities in apparel, food and transportation.
In the 2005-06 and 2004-05 academic years, women's teams earned a larger percentage of athletic scholarships than the percentage of women making up the unduplicated athlete count.
Mr. Curley said Penn State has proportionate athletic representation and that it does not have any unmet interest.
But in each academic year dating back to 2003-04, Penn State has had a larger percentage of male athletes than male students. The largest gap was 4.0 percentage points, which would have required about 39 female athletes
"We believe overall that we've made great progress with our Title IX responsibilities," Mr. Curley said. "We have a very healthy and vibrant women's program."
Men made up 55.8 percent of the student body in 2008-09 but only 51.7 percent of the duplicated athlete count. That number rose to 59.6 percent of unduplicated athletes -- in large part because the high number of multisport female athletes on the track and cross country teams. Men's teams were awarded 57.3 percent of athletic scholarships that same year -- less than their proportion of unduplicated athletes.
Women have accounted for a larger percentage of athletes than students at West Virginia for the past four academic years. Three times since 2003-04, women's teams have earned a larger percentage of athletic aid than their percentage of the student body.
Ms. Howes said that with every action the department takes, gender equity "has to be on our radar."
The largest gap between enrollment and athletic participation existed at Duquesne in 2008-09, where men accounted for 42.3 percent of students but made up 53.7 percent of athletes.
Duquesne is in the midst of eliminating four men's sports, however, which will bring the numbers in proportion, said Phil Racicot, associate athletic director of administration. That decision was not based solely on Title IX concerns, he said, but they were a "contributing factor."
Next year, women will account for 58.2 percent of all athletes, he said. Once the remaining men's scholarships cycle runs out in the next three years, scholarship distribution will mirror enrollment figures, he said.
In 2008-09, scholarship distribution was nearly split in half -- men's teams received 50.1 percent and women's teams received 49.9 percent -- even though men accounted for 57.6 percent of the unduplicated athlete count.
Mr. Racicot said male involvement grew at a larger rate than scholarship distribution because the school added athletes to enhance its football program but had not yet fully funded it.
More than any other school in the region, Robert Morris' athletic participation most closely mirrors its enrollment. Men were 56.3 percent of undergraduate students and 57.6 percent of duplicated athletes in 2008-09. The school did not have any multisport athletes that year, according to Equity in Athletes Disclosure Act figures.
Like Duquesne, Robert Morris distributed a larger percentage of its athletic aid to women's teams than women composed its unduplicated athlete count. But Robert Morris was the only school in the region that distributed a majority of its athletic aid -- 53.8 percent -- to women's teams
Athletic director Craig Coleman said that disparity was only temporary -- the school is upgrading its football program and scholarship distribution will reflect athletic participation.
"I think we do extremely well in terms of Title IX," he said.
Michael Sanserino: firstname.lastname@example.org .