In the spring of 2019, Kent State University students will be able to watch an NCAA women’s lacrosse match on campus for the first time ever. The higher education institution is adding the sport to its athletics department, which will lead to an additional 12.6 full scholarships being provided for female athletes, an initiative motivated by more than sheer generosity.

Since the institution of Title IX, back in 1972, universities are legally obligated to offer the same amount of athletic scholarship funding for men and women. The addition of the women’s lacrosse team is another step in meeting said requirements, a work in progress for Kent State athletics for over 45 years.

“It’s extremely exciting to give young women the opportunity to play lacrosse at a high-level while they can pursue a good education,” Coach Brianne Tierney said. “More than athletes, they will be students at a great university that will offer them a range of wonderful life experiences.”

Women’s lacrosse Head Coach Brianne Tierney, who will lead the building of the program
Tierney was hired earlier this year to be the head coach of the team and lead the building of the new program. She has plenty of experience with that, as she previously started the lacrosse program at Division III Lebanon Valley College, in Pennsylvania. The difference this time, however, is the resources she will have.

“There’s more pressure, of course,” Tierney said. “However, at Kent State, I will have a whole staff to help me make this program successful. And there’s the money too, you know? Being able to offer these many scholarships makes recruiting easier.”

The exact amount of money available for the team will depend on the 2018-19 academic year tuition fees. However, the maximum number of scholarships a women’s lacrosse program can offer is 12.6. To put it in comparison, a Division I, FBS football program is comprised of 85 scholarship players. That means that, due to Title IX regulations, a university that has a football team needs to match the 85 full-rides with the same amount of scholarships awarded to female athletes.

The Kent State’s Intercollegiate Athletics Program Statement of Revenue and Expenses shows that, for the year of 2016-17, the university spent a total of $2,138,668 on athletic student aid, the official term utilized by the NCAA for scholarships, on the football team. The women’s sport that comes closest to that amount is basketball, which offered $432,054 that same season. In other words, the amount spent on the football team was five times larger than that of the women’s basketball team.

The enormous $2.1 million figure spent on football among all over sports creates a significant gap between opportunities offered for men and women at the collegiate level. To make it up for it, Kent State offers only 7 men’s sports, compared to 10 women’s programs – counting the recently added lacrosse team. Still, the statistics are surprising.

The NCAA limits the number of scholarships offered by women’s basketball programs to 15, while the number for men’s basketball teams is limited to 13. In spite of that, the Kent State athletics department awarded a total of $520,886 in student aid to its male basketball players, $88,832 more than what they offered to those in the women’s roster.

The Kent State athletics department was given several opportunities to explain this gap, but did not reply by the time of publication of this story.

Regulating whether schools do comply with the rules and requirements of Title IX, however, is not clear-cut. Universities are required to self-report annually on athletics participation numbers, scholarships, program budgets, and expenditures, as well as coaching salaries by gender. The NCAA doesn’t audit these reports, though, which allows for the misrepresentation of information.

The NCAA started requiring the self-reports in 2012-13. Since then, these documents are filed annually and end up as part of the Kent State University Financial Report, audited by the Ohio Auditor of State Dave Yost. The audits have not resulted in any notices of failure to comply with the regulations. However, the numbers listed by the university in the NCAA self-report are divided into the following categories: Football, Men’s Basketball, Women’s Basketball and Other Sports. That means that there is no clear way for those auditing the reports to know whether the figures are similar when it comes to scholarship funding for male and female athletes.

A 2011 story by the New York Times found that schools were manipulating the numbers when reporting to the Department of Education. “Division I programs routinely count male players who practice with women’s teams as female participants,” wrote the Times reporter Katie Jones. She used the example of Texas A&M women’s basketball team, which reported a total of 32 players on the roster, even though 14 were men. This loophole existed at the time because the Department of Education claimed that men who were practicing with women and receiving training from women should count toward the number of women athletes.
The same seems to happen with the NCAA self-reports.

“The schools have no incentive to report misconducts and failures to meet the requirements,” an NCAA employee who requested to remain anonymous said. “I’ve seen reports from plenty of schools with blatant lies. Why would you report something that can take away your federal funding?”

There is no evidence that points that Kent State misrepresents its information. Furthermore, the fact that Kent State has added a women’s lacrosse program is a good sign, as it shows an interest in making progress toward equal opportunity. However, why is this still an issue more than four decades after the passing of the Title IX federal law?

Until equal opportunity is reached, the amount of money spent by the university on its intercollegiate athletics program will continue to rise. In 2013, a total of $13,655,430 in student fees was allocated to the athletics department. This number went up to $13,982,690 in 2014, $14,418,300 in 2015 and finally $14,581,536 in 2016. The amount of money from student fees directed to the athletics department for 2017 and 2018 has yet to be released by the university.
The tendency is for the numbers to go up, as Kent State has now a whole new program to fund. The women’s lacrosse team, which will be playing in the Atlantic Sun Conference due to the Mid-American Conference’s lack of a lacrosse league, announced its inaugural signing class with 13 incoming freshman to arrive on campus next fall. These 13 young women will have the opportunity to play Division I lacrosse and be leaders starting from their first semester in Kent.

Eva Nikolai (left), battles for the ball at a Medina High School lacrosse game
“Not many athletes receive this unique opportunity to be able to shape the culture of a program,” committed midfielder Eva Nikolai said. “We will all be freshmen, and this will bring us all so close.”

For Tierney, more than an opportunity for her to prove her quality as a coach, this will be a chance for her to help women empowerment.
“Sports was always the way I expressed myself and explored who I was,” Tierney said. “It feels great to know that these girls will be able to do the same. Being a student-athlete is going to allow them to experience things in a different way, especially because they will have to step up and lead the team.”

While the NCAA self-reports are not enough to learn whether the university does provide equal opportunities for men and women, the addition of the lacrosse team seems to be a step in that direction. Coach Tierney and the 13 incoming freshman will begin their season in the spring of 2018, and the program’s schedule for its inaugural season will not be announced until next year.

Kent State Athletics Director Joel Nielsen and the Kent State Athletics Department were contacted for comment several times over the course of the last two weeks, but the athletics department failed to set up an interview. Thanksgiving Break and the end of the semester were used to justify the lack of availability.