TRCC fails Title IX test

Friday, May 21, 2010

An audit by Three Rivers Community College shows it is not currently in compliance with Title IX.

In a report to the school's Board of Trustees during its meeting Thursday, Athletic Director Gene Bess released the findings and recommendations for the future of the Raiders.

"We have confidence in the administration and the board that we'll work our way through this," Bess said Thursday night. "It's going to be fine and we'll be in compliance."

Three Rivers had a Title IX consultant look at the school's athletic program earlier this year. In her findings, Helen Grant found "several areas where TRCC is not currently in compliance with Title IX."

To do that, Three Rivers could hire more assistant coaches, the Raiders could return to the volleyball court or another sport, perhaps two, could be cut.

"It would be a great injustice to eliminate those sports," Bess said.

Jason Hoseney, vice president of Student Success at Three Rivers, said that cutting sports is a worst-case scenario for the college.

"No one at this point sees that happening in the foreseeable future, or at all really," Hoseney said. "We would have to be in absolute dire straights to cut programs like that."

The immediate emphasis, Hoseney said, is adding assistant coaches for the women's basketball and softball programs while bringing back volleyball might be in the college's long-term plans.

"It's not something we're going to be able to do in the near future but in the long-term we need to do that," Hoseney said.

When the volleyball program was cut in December 2006, Bess said at the time "... we needed three sports to have gender equity. Obviously, that wasn't looked at."

It will have to be now.

"This administration is in full support of athletics," Hoseney said. "We want all of our teams to be given all the resources necessary to be as competitive as possible.

"I think this is just a further step in that direction of making sure that we're treating each athlete fairly and we're putting our teams in position to be competitive in the region and nationally as well."

Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 is a federal law that prohibits sex discrimination in schools that receive federal funds. Among other things, it requires a school to offer equal opportunities for both men and women to play sports, provide athletes their shares of scholarship money as well as equivalent benefits.

Enforcement of Title IX is conducted by United States Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights.

The report given to the board was produced for Three Rivers after Grant's visit to the campus Jan. 25-27.

"I don't think there was any surprises to us that understand Title IX," Bess said. "It was actually pretty positive in almost every direction."

Three Rivers currently participates in two male and two female sports -- men's and women's basketball, baseball and softball.

However, in the report, Grant says Three Rivers does not meet the three tests to determine if a school offers equal opportunities for both male and female athletes.

The first test takes the percentage of male and female athletes and compares it with the percentage of total students enrolled at the school. Three Rivers has a female enrollment of 62.5 percent but the percent of female athletes is 42.4 percent. That exceeds the proportion to pass, Grant says.

While there is an equal number of sports there are more male athletes at Three Rivers because softball requires fewer pitchers and a smaller roster than baseball.

A second key test is whether the school has a "history and a continuing practice of expanding athletic opportunities for female students." Three Rivers does not meet this test after the volleyball program, which was started in the 1970s, was cut before the 2007-08 school year.

In terms of athletic scholarship money, women's sports were given more of the total amount. Of the $265,251.85 awarded during the 2009-10 school year, 50.8 percent went to women.

The report noted that the men's basketball and baseball teams did not use all the funds available to them, adding, "If they had used all the scholarship funds allotted to them, they would have awarded 54.6 (percent) of the total scholarship money."

The report gave no recommendations in terms of scholarship money.

In terms of benefits, the report had eight issues including "women's teams lack equal number of assistant coaches," the facilities provided to the baseball and softball teams and access to Booster Club funds.

Bess noted that recent improvements to Pattillo Field, including a clubhouse, came from donations from the public. Rains Field has also added a concession stand and new dugouts in recent years and has lights while the baseball field does not.

The report gave four items for future consideration, including to add a full-time assistant women's basketball coach, ask the Booster Club to assist with scholarship and living expenses, reduce salary expenses by moving the athletic director's duties to the vice president for Student Success and consider eliminating baseball and softball.

Until this school year, Jack Childress was coaching both softball and women's basketball. Women's basketball coach Jeff Walk took over the program in 2008-09 with Childress as his assistant but that made it difficult with overlapping seasons -- softball's first game was Feb. 22.

Bess said he's appreciated Childress being willing to fill the coaching gaps, whether it was softball, basketball or volleyball. Childress was the head volleyball coach when the program played its last game on Nov. 10, 2006.

"We were always continually trying to get him more help but there wasn't always the funding to do it," Bess said.

That appears to be changing.

"We really feel like it's unfair to our softball and women's basketball teams particularly to ask those coaches to essentially do everything," Hoseney said. "They're overburdened at this point and we really feel for recruiting purposes and scouting, all of the behind-the-scenes type work that's so time consuming that we really need to get both of those teams assistant coaches this year if at all possible."

That should help Three Rivers better comply with Title IX, but it's just a first step in a long-term process.

Bess presented three options to the board Thursday:

* Return volleyball; hire a full-time assistant coach for women's basketball and softball; and add five full scholarships to the baseball team.

* Hire the assistant coaches and add the baseball scholarships but hold off on returning volleyball for 3-4 years.

* Or, eliminate baseball and softball in 2012.

The Department of Education, however, says cutting or capping sports is "contrary to the spirit of Title IX." On its Web site, the Office of Civil Right's policy in negotiating compliance is to "seek remedies that do not involve the elimination of teams."

With the board facing tough choices on the budget for the entire school, making changes to better comply with Title IX may be difficult.

"We have to adapt to the budget crunch," Bess said.

Also included in the report was the total budgets for each sport.

Men's basketball has the highest budget at $334,458, but its payroll was nearly twice that of the second-highest sport since Bess also serves as the athletic director and assistant coach Brian Bess is also a part-time faculty member. The Raiders also had a higher budget this past school year because the team did considerably more travel, Hoseney said, with an invitation to Las Vegas and an appearance in the NJCAA National Tournament.

Men's basketball, baseball ($177,699 budget), women's basketball ($170,528) and softball ($160,719) made up 41 percent of the total budget for Student Success.

"We want to treat all of our athletes equitable and with fairness," Hoseney said. "However, to be in full compliance it probably will take three to five years considering the budget situation we're in."

Grant, who specializes in Title IX program reviews and is a former Division I athletic administrator and coach, said this was her first community college review.

Bess said the last time Three Rivers looked into Title IX compliance it was done by an administrator in 2005. He said that Dr. Devin Stephenson, who became the college's president less than a year ago, wanted to be proactive and get a handle on the school's Title IX standing.

"I've been familiar with it since it was put in," said Bess, who came to Three Rivers two years before the passing of Title IX. "We've always tried to be cognizant of our requirements to work toward compliance."

DAR reporter Tim Krakowiak provided information for this story.

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