Women's participation in sports varies across Massachusetts

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BOSTON >> Compliance with federal rules barring discrimination in college athletics presents some challenges at University of Massachusetts campuses, some of which are wrestling with gender gaps in the student body.

Undergraduate enrollment at UMass Boston was 54 percent women in the last school year, but female sports participation at the Division 3 school was only 40 percent in 2015, according to a report provided to the News Service.

Charles Titus, athletic director at the harbor-side school, said Wednesday that female participation at UMass Boston is "slightly below the national average," and he said the introduction of dormitories will allow the school to attract more females who want to compete on Beacon sports teams.

Athletic directors briefed the University Board of Trustees' Committee on Academic and Student Affairs on Wednesday about their compliance with Title 9, a federal statute signed in 1972 that prohibits sex-discrimination in any federally funded education activity.

At the university's three other undergraduate campuses, men actually make up the majority - markedly so at UMass Lowell - even though overall women attend college at a greater rate than men in the United States.

UMass President Marty Meehan, who was previously the chancellor of UMass Lowell, told the News Service the school is hoping to boost its female population and he said the predominance of males owes itself to the "disproportionate number of men in engineering," and the school's historic roots as Lowell Technological Institute, which Meehan said was a "male-dominated place."

Athletic directors discussed a range of topics, including racial disparity among overwhelmingly white coaching staff, efforts to level the type of facilities used by men's and women's teams, and the impact of various sports on participation rates.

UMass Lowell athletic director Dana Skinner said the school's male-female demographics pose "unique challenges" as officials aim to increase enrollment by women and women's participation in River Hawks sports.

While in the 2014-2015 school year women only made up 37 percent of UMass Lowell's undergraduate enrollment, women made up about 44 percent of student athlete participants.

Skinner said the NCAA will visit the school later in September and the governing body is likely to issue a report next spring, determining whether the school will be a full, active member of Division 1.

UMass Lowell Men's hockey had competed in Division 1 since 1984, and all the other UMass Lowell sports were elevated on a probationary basis in 2013, according to Skinner, who said the reason for the move was so the school could compete against similar institutions rather than the smaller, mostly private schools in Division 2.

At UMass Dartmouth, men make up 54 percent of the undergraduate student body and 57 percent of the school's 562 student athletes.

Amanda Van Voorhis, UMass Dartmouth's athletic director, said theories have tied the school's gender gap to its futuristic architecture or its emphasis on business and engineering, but she is unsure of the reason for it.

"People say that it's campus aesthetics or majors, location. I'm not really sure what it's attributed to," VanVoorhis told the News Service. She said, "I can't really put my finger on it."

VanVoorhis said challenges remain recruiting coaches for the Corsairs, noting that part-time head coaches at the Division 3 school make in the range of a $15,000 stipend.

At UMass Amherst, which is fully within Division 1 and the largest of the university's campuses, the gender ratio of sports participants roughly hews to the school's overall gender breakdown, where men make up 52 percent of the undergraduate body.

"Equity in athletics is front of mind for us at all times," said Ryan Bamford, UMass Amherst's athletics director.

Of the 59 Minutewomen and Minutemen coaches, about 35 percent are female, and the school in recent years devoted more than $1 million additional scholarship dollars to men, but Bamford said UMass Amherst plans to create scholarship proportionality by fiscal 2019.


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