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IOWA CITY — Gender equity advocates say the popularity of college football — a multibillion-dollar industry — has pushed athletic departments across the country to add more benchwarmers to women's teams to comply with Title IX, the federal gender equity law, while avoiding the cost of starting new women's sports.
One sport under the microscope is women's rowing, which races four-person and eight-person boats against teams from across the country.
The University of Iowa women's rowing team had 89 participants in fall 2014, which is nearly 40 percent larger than the 64.4 average squad size for all NCAA Division I rowing programs. The UI team was as much as 70 percent larger than national averages in recent years.
'Instead of adding new opportunities, they started padding some of their women's teams,' said Kristen Galles, a Cedar Rapids native who now practices civil rights law in Washington, D.C. 'Women's soccer, softball, golf all have more players than is normal.'
The U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights will be at the UI the week of April 11 for a wide-ranging investigation into whether the UI provides equal opportunities to men and women in sports participation, facilities, financial aid, practice times and recruitment, among other areas.
The probe follows two complaints filed against the UI since January 2015.
First, four UI Field Hockey players said their Title IX rights were violated when the UI fired coach Tracey Griesbaum in August 2014. The students said the university investigates complaints of male and female student athletes differently and holds female coaches to a higher standard.
A second complaint, filed Sept. 2, has remained largely confidential, although Tom Newkirk, a Des Moines attorney who advised the field hockey players and is representing Griesbaum in a state civil rights complaint, said the new filing relates to concerns the UI is inflating women's rowing rosters.
Women's numbers boom
Title IX, enacted in 1972, prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any federally funded education program or activity. The law is credited with increasing participation of women in college sports from 90,000 in 1981-82 to more than 190,000 in 2010-11, according to the NCAA and the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics.
To meet the legal requirement of matching gender participation in sports to the undergraduate population, hundreds of universities have added women's sports, including soccer, lacrosse, golf and rowing.
Women's soccer, for example, gained more than 18,000 participants between 1981-82 and 1998-99, according to a 2001 report by the Government Accountability Office.
While football programs continued to grow — gaining 7,200 players from 1981-82 to 1998-99 — other men's programs suffered. During that same period, 171 college wrestling programs were eliminated, the GAO noted.
The NCAA limits the number of scholarships available to each sport.
Sports that generally make money — football and basketball included — are head-count sports, which means scholarships can't be divided up among players. So with football's 85 allowed scholarships, only 85 players get money.
In other sports, coaches can spread out the financial aid to more students. Rowing teams are allowed to have 20 scholarships, but often split the aid between 30 or more rowers.
The UI women's rowing team, created in 1994, is the largest UI women's team, with its 89 participants in fall 2014, and the second-largest team behind football, which had 121 participants.
'Our Big Ten roster is 51,' UI Head Rowing Coach Andrew Carter said. 'If somebody gets sick or rolls an ankle, you have to have others with you.'
Rowing teams across the country are unique in that they have a novice division for freshmen, most of whom have never rowed. The team recruits novices through mass emails, fliers and personal outreach to women who are tall and athletic.
'They were handing out fliers at the Kickoff at Kinnick,' said Deanna Arps, a UI senior from Riverside who rowed her freshman year. 'I swam and played basketball in high school. I wasn't fast enough for the UI swim team, but this was a team to join.'
Carter calls the novice program a 'talent transfer,' which means they teach novices how to row, introduce them to rigorous workouts and see who develops the skill and fortitude to make it into the boats.
'Some people figure out it's not really for them,' Carter said.
Dalicia Herink, 26, of Lacey, Wash., rowed for Iowa in 2008-09 and 2009-10.
'I had never seen rowing before I came to college,' said Herink, who played basketball and soccer and did cheerleading at Cedar Rapids Prairie. 'I met a girl from Oregon who told me, 'You look like a rower. I wasn't really sure what to think about that.''
Herink got used to the running, weights and indoor rowing machines.
'Rowing came pretty naturally for me,' she said. 'I wasn't one of the stronger girls, but I had better technique.'
As other novices quit or were injured, Herink fought her way into a varsity four-person boat for the Big Ten championship event in spring 2009, she said. She ended up earning a partial scholarship for her junior year, but because of a back injury did not compete often.
'It's hard when you don't get to participate,' Herink said.
This one of the arguments for adding a new women's sport instead of having supersized women's teams, Galles said.
'Do you want to be No. 89 on the rowing team or No. 1 on lacrosse or ice hockey?' Galles said, naming two sports the UI doesn't have. 'Why isn't a school in Iowa adding bowling when so many Iowa schools have bowling?'
In Iowa, 97 high schools have girls bowling, which is relatively inexpensive and can be played year-round.
No Iowa high schools have rowing teams.
The Y Quad Cities Rowing program, Des Moines Rowing Club and UI Recreational Services Rowing program offer rowing instruction and competition to teens and adults.
The last new sport started at Iowa was women's soccer, which had its first competitive season in 1997. But that doesn't mean people haven't asked for new sports.
'With Maryland and Rutgers joining the Big Ten, will Iowa (be) evaluating whether to add Women's and Men's lacrosse programs?' asked Matthew Winchester, of Englewood, Colo., in a Jan. 4, 2015, email to UI Athletic Director Gary Barta.
The UI released the email to The Gazette last week after the newspaper asked about requests for new sports. There also have been verbal requests for synchronized swimming, men's soccer and men's and women's ice hockey, the UI reported.
Winchester told The Gazette in a phone interview his daughter, Madison, plays high school lacrosse and would have loved to continue at the varsity level when she becomes a UI freshman this fall.
'If they had a team, absolutely,' Winchester said. 'Iowa has the bandwidth to recruit and the resources.'
Women's lacrosse is a 12-player game, and Big Ten schools Maryland, Northwestern, Penn State, Michigan, Ohio State and Rutgers all have lacrosse teams. But Iowa isn't planning to add new sports, Barta told Winchester.
'While our short-term plans don't include adding any sports, you've IDed the most likely candidate(s) for the future,' Barta wrote Jan. 5, 2015. 'The growth and excitement in this sport has been interesting to watch. We'll keep monitoring as we make future long term plans ...
again, for now — adding sports isn't on the list.'
Before launching a new varsity sport, the UI considers the size and success of the UI's club team, growth in the sport nationally, recruiting opportunities and 'potential impact on ethnic diversity within the student-athlete population,' according to a policy provided by the UI.
Cost is a major factor.
'A budget must be produced and approved, along with a timeline for securing the necessary funds for supporting a new varsity team,' the policy notes.
'Right now I don't see that it makes sense to add a sport when I'm not done yet giving the sports that we have all the support that they need,' Barta told The Gazette last summer.
Only two UI teams make money. Football brought in nearly $24 million after expenses in 2014-15, and the men's basketball team netted $2.1 million that year, the UI reported.
UI rowing's revenue in 2014-15 was less than one-tenth of its operating expenses. But the program has loyal supporters, including P. Sue Beckwith, a Des Moines surgeon and former Iowa basketball player, who contributed $1 million toward the $7.3 million Beckwith Boathouse, which opened in 2009.
Not just Iowa
Balancing football's massive teams with women's sports is a challenge for many universities.
A federal judge ruled in 2010 Quinnipiac University in Connecticut violated Title IX through practices that included requiring female cross-country runners to join the indoor and outdoor track teams so they could be counted three times and counting female athletes and then cutting them a few weeks later, the New York Times reported in 2011.
The University of Wisconsin has a whopping 190 women's rowers in fall 2014 — nearly three times the average squad size for all NCAA D-1 schools. Iowa State University also had slightly larger teams than the NCAA average for swimming/diving and gymnastics in 2014-15.
Cedar Rapids native fights for gender equity
When Kristen Galles was a seventh-grader at Harding Junior High in Cedar Rapids in the 1970s, she questioned why girls had to take home economics while boys could take shop class.
'I complained, and the next year they let students choose,' said Galles, now 50, who played volleyball, basketball, track and softball at Kennedy High School.
When she graduated as one of Kennedy's valedictorians, she refused to wear a dress as the administration required.
'It's kind of in my DNA that things should be fair,' said the Washington, D.C., lawyer.
Title IX was enacted in 1972 to level the gender playing field in educational opportunities — including sports — but it wasn't widely enforced for decades, Galles said.
Galles helped the softball team while attending Creighton University in Omaha and then went to law school at Washington University in St. Louis.
In the early 1990s, when she returned to Creighton to help run the Western Athletic Conference (WAC) softball tournament, former pitching Coach Ron Osborn asked if she could put her legal skills to work to force Nebraska high schools to offer girls' softball.
'We filed a bunch of Title IX cases against high schools in Nebraska,' Galles said. 'They all settled and added softball.'
Galles built a national practice representing students, athletes, coaches and teachers in discrimination and retaliation cases.
She has litigated cooperatively with the National Women's Law Center, California Women's Law Center, ACLU, Equal Rights Advocates, and the Employment Law Center in San Francisco.
Gazette sports reporter Scott Dochterman contributed to this report.