University of Tennessee at Chattanooga aims for more in women's sports

University of Tennessee at Chattanooga aims for more in women's sports

June 24th, 2012 by John Frierson in Sports - College

UTC Lady Mocs pitcher Michelle Fuzzard throws against Tennessee Tech at Frost Stadium on April 10.

Photo by Doug Strickland/Times Free Press.

The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga athletic department is striving to meet the "proportionality" prong for Title IX compliance. Of the three prongs, one of which has to be met to be in compliance with the now 40-year-old federal law, that's the ultimate goal.

UTC is a long way from hitting that prong, which essentially requires that the number of male and female student-athletes be proportional to the number of male and female students. However, the school is meeting prong three, which requires institutions to demonstrate that they are accommodating students' interests and abilities.

The second prong has to do with the continued addition of women's programs. UTC hasn't started a women's sport since adding golf in 2006. The resources aren't available to add more, just as resources aren't available to flood UTC's nine current women's varsity sports with money.

"We're meeting the only prong that at this time we're eligible to meet or have an opportunity to meet," athletic director Rick Hart said. "Overall, similar to the [Academic Progress Rate], I'm pleased that we have a plan, that we're following that plan and that we've been able to implement all of the aspects of that plan, in the time period that we said we would."

A new five-year plan was launched last year, following an independent review of UTC's compliance status in May 2010. The review found that the student body is roughly 56 percent female, but males make up about 60 percent of the school's total number of student-athletes.

According to the report, there is a 15.9 percent disparity "between the participation rate and the enrollment of women students." That number is down from 25 percent in 2002.

Senior associate athletic director and senior woman administrator Laura Herron said UTC is implementing several measures in the five-year plan, which has 17 action items, to help close the equity gap. It is adding a full-time volleyball assistant in the fall, instead of having a graduate assistant on staff, and it is capping the number of participants in men's sports while adding some roster spots on women's teams.

The roster-number changes won't affect scholarships, Herron said, only participation numbers. And they will help close the proportionality gap, but not all the way.

"With having football, we'd probably have to add three or four sports to get participants up [to meet prong one]," Herron said.

One of the steps to meeting prong three is conducting surveys to gauge the student body's interest in the sports UTC has and what sports students would be interested in UTC adding. A new survey will be done each year of the five-year plan, Herron said.

The survey conducted during the 2011-12 school year -- all undergraduates received multiple emails from chancellor Roger Brown encouraging them to participate -- yielded a small number of responses.

"We had 583 total responses, out of 10,000 students," Herron said, adding that it will take several years' worth of surveys to get an accurate picture of what students want.

One thing that won't be happening any time soon is the addition of a men's sport. The question Hart gets perhaps more than any other is, when is UTC bringing back baseball? Don't hold your breath.

"Because of Title IX, we cannot start a men's sport," Herron said, because UTC's participation numbers are already out of whack.

Herron grew up near Rising Fawn, Ga., and said she wasn't really aware of Title IX at the time.

"I played softball until fifth grade, but the coach got pregnant and nobody else would coach the team," she said. "I really didn't know about Title IX and equity."

She noticed a disparity between men's and women's resources after high school, while attending college or working as an athletic trainer.

"It was in the late [19]80s and the [women's] basketball team was eating sack lunches in a van while the men's basketball team was eating a lot better," she said. "The students coming in now, they've never seen that. They want to know how many pairs of shoes they're getting, and they expect that treatment.

"I think it's good that they haven't had to struggle, but I always feel like, do you appreciate it? Unless you've eaten that peanut butter sandwich on the bus or slept four girls to a room -- I've been on road trips like that."

Hart said UTC is working to reach prong one, but it isn't something that can change quickly.

"I think it's one of those things that we'll have to chip away at as we try to get closer to one of the other prongs, proportionality being, obviously, the ideal situation," he said. "We've made a lot of strides and we've got a long way to go, not just as it relates to investing in women's athletics, but in all of our athletics programs."