November 13 update: When USA TODAY originally published this article in August, it was only available to subscribers. We’ve now made it free for everyone, ahead of new articles in our Title IX survey this week.
In youth sports circles, it’s not uncommon for parents to invest tens of thousands of dollars in private training, travel teams and high-end equipment for their children in the hopes that it will pay off. a full and coveted college athletic scholarship.
In reality, most NCAA scholarship athletes do not make full trips because NCAA scholarship limits limit the number of them a school can award to each team. In most sports, schools distribute this money among multiple athletes, leaving individuals responsible for funding much of their college education.
Unless their children play a few key Division I sports, such as basketball, women’s volleyball, or soccer at a school in the NCAA’s premier Football Bowl Subdivision, those upfront expenses rarely pay off. enough scholarships to cover their tuition fees.
Simply put: an offensive third line player in an FBS school is likely to graduate debt-free just because he is a football player. But many female athletes — and male athletes who don’t play football or basketball — Face significant costs throughout college, regardless of talent or achievement.
Read the full survey: Female athletes have taken advantage of scholarships to some of the biggest colleges in the country
NCAA rules set by schools limit the number of scholarships they can award to each team they sponsor. How they allocate the scholarship money depends on whether the sport is an “effective” or an “equivalence” sport.
Squad sports – in Division I, these are FBS football, men’s and women’s basketball, women’s volleyball, women’s tennis and women’s gymnastics – limit the number of athletes who can receive a roster. assistance. Each athlete in a rostered sport can receive up to a full ride, although no one is guaranteed that. An athlete who receives athletic assistance is counted as having received a full ride, whether or not they actually received one.
All other sports are equivalency sports, which limits the number of “full equivalencies” the school can award to athletes on those teams. Women’s football, for example, is capped at 14 full matches in the FBS. This means that a school could award 14 women’s soccer players, or it could split that money among all the athletes on the team. Limits on the number of players who can receive sports scholarships exist in a handful of equivalency sports.
In practice, NCAA Division I schools tend to award athletes in rostered sports full or nothing, while athletes in equivalency sports more often receive partial scholarships.
For FBS schools, NCAA limits cap the number of scholarships for male athletes at 98 and for female athletes at 47. This number drops to 35 at the many FBS schools without a female gymnastics program.
The effect: significantly more male athletes than female perform full runs.
A USA TODAY analysis of financial data submitted to the NCAA by 107 FBS public schools found that more than a third of the $1.1 billion they spent on athletic scholarships in 2020-21 went to football players .
Athletes in roster sports received more than half of the sports scholarships. The remaining money is distributed among the equivalency sports.
While football and basketball scholarships hover around $40,000 each, the average scholarship for football, softball, baseball, track and field, cross country, swimming and diving athletes is closer. of $20,000.
Average purses in equivalency sports drop to as low as $15,775 for women’s lacrosse and $8,812 for men’s water polo. Many athletes get even less or nothing at all.
NCAA limits allow schools to award full scholarships to almost everyone on a 100-person FBS football team. No women’s team manages to offer as much.
Even rowing teams of 80 or 100 women are capped at 20 purses, and coaches can distribute that money among athletes as they see fit. The same goes for a women’s track and field team of 60 people, for which the limit is 18 scholarships. For women’s sports such as football, softball and lacrosse, NCAA scholarship limits barely allow enough full drives to field a starting roster.
These scholarship limits complicate schools’ ability to comply with a key Title IX provision that requires them to distribute athletic scholarship money equally between men and women. Title IX is the federal law passed 50 years ago this summer that prohibits gender discrimination in education, including sports.
Unlike some Title IX requirements that are subjective and complex, calculating its scholarship requirement is relatively straightforward. Under U.S. Department of Education policy, the percentage of athletic scholarships a college awards to male and female athletes must be less than 1 percentage point of their representation in the athletic department. A school where 45% of the athletes are women, for example, must pay them between 44% and 46% of its sports financial aid.
But of 107 public FBS universities analyzed by USA TODAY, only 32 complied with the requirement, according to data reported by the schools to the Department of Education and the NCAA. Forty-nine of them have underfunded sports scholarships for women. The other 26 male scholarships were underfunded, but in almost all cases it was because they had so few female athletes to begin with.
Schools that underfunded women should have given them $23.7 million more in athletic scholarships in 2020-21 alone to comply with the law, the analysis found — nearly half a million more per school.
The disparity was greatest at the University of New Mexico, where female athletes received 70 cents in scholarships for every dollar earned by male athletes. The average male Lobos athlete received $23,700, while the average female Lobos athlete received $16,600. This $7,100 gap was the largest among the 107 schools.
In 33 schools, the average male athlete received at least $2,000 more than the average female athlete.
The numbers below are based on data that schools submitted to the US Department of Education and the NCAA. Asked by USA TODAY about their disparities, some schools said they used different numbers to assess whether they were Title IX compliant, and that these internal numbers showed they were compliant.
Contributors: Steve Berkowitz, Lindsay Schnell