Along with Colorado, USC remains one of only two Pac-12 schools to not field a softball team. It also lacks a men’s soccer program, despite clamoring from fans and the fact that nearby UCLA has won four national championships since its team was formed more than 50 years ago.
Instead, in the last two years, USC’s athletic department has announced the formation of women’s lacrosse and women’s sand volleyball.
In mid-July, the university introduced Anna Collier as the school’s first sand volleyball coach, leading a program set to begin play in the spring of 2012.
The announcement comes on the heels of the January hiring of Lindsey Munday as the school’s first women’s lacrosse coach. That program will begin play starting with the 2012-2013 season.
Though other athletic programs have faced financial challenges recently, and many have cut teams, USC now boasts 21 varsity sports.
“We’re more fiscally sound than others,” said USC Assistant Athletic Director Donna Heinel. “Other institutions, sometimes state institutions that rely a lot on kickbacks, don’t have enough money to take care of their other programs, so that’s why you see a lot of state schools cutting things.”
USC had been looking to expand the athletic department for years, but the decision about which programs to add raised a few eyebrows.
“I’m not surprised additions were made but I’m surprised at the sports they chose,” said Syreeta Thomas, who graduated from USC in 2003. “Why not something other Pac-12 schools have?”
USC’s options were limited, however, because of Title IX restrictions.
Title IX, which was enacted in 1972 as an amendment to the 1964 Civil Rights Act, is a gender equity law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex at schools that receive federal aid.
There are three separate ways for athletic departments to comply with Title IX requirements. One way is for schools to provide athletic opportunities “substantially proportionate” to undergraduate enrollment. Alternatively, institutions can demonstrate they have a history and practice of program expansion, or, lastly, that their athletic programs “fully and effectively” represent the underrepresented sex.
“You only have to comply with one of the three tests and the school can choose which one it wants to comply with,” said Valerie Bonnette, founder of Good Sports Inc., Title IX and Gender Equity Specialists. “In heavily populated parts of the country, like California, schools have to add an awful lot of women’s teams because there’s a lot of interest and available competition for teams the school’s not currently offering. So, for schools in this situation, they might choose proportionality as their method for compliance.”
To remain in compliance and continue to receive federal aid, USC’s athletic scholarship offerings must mirror the university’s enrollment numbers.
In 2010-2011, 55 percent of the incoming class was female. Because of this, USC must offer more athletic scholarships for women. As a result, in seeking to expand, USC’s hands were tied — men’s soccer or men’s lacrosse simply weren’t options.
“If we were to add, say men’s lacrosse, which currently has 12.6 scholarships, the money that would be spent toward men’s scholarships would not reflect the percentages of participation and moneys,” Heinel said. “We would then probably have to add another women’s sport in order to balance that out.”
The choice to add women’s lacrosse was spurred by President C. L. Max Nikias and Provost Elizabeth Garrett, who each wanted to see USC partake in the popular east coast sport. The creation of a sand volleyball program stemmed from USC administrators’ desire to add a sport featured on the NCAA’s list of emerging sports for women.
The list, which is managed by the NCAA Committee on Women’s Athletics, is intended to help schools provide more athletic opportunities, like scholarships, for women.
The list also includes sports such as equestrian and rugby, but Heinel said sand volleyball was the first sport that made sense for USC.
“Sand volleyball [worked] because of the circuit that was around it with the [Association of Volleyball Professionals] and the popularity of it,” she said.
In response to the university’s recent addition of two women’s sports, some have expressed discontent with the constraints placed upon the program by Title IX.
“It’s certainly unfair and it’s because [universities] decide to let a quota law dictate athletic policy,” said Leo Kocher, president of the American Sports Council, an organization exploring Title IX reform. “These kind of twisted decisions are all the result of trying to comply with the enormous pressure these types of laws exert on athletic programs.”
Softball, a sport some hope to see at USC, could have been an option, but Heinel said the lack of facilities made women’s lacrosse a preferable choice. Women’s lacrosse will use McAlister Field, which is used by the women’s soccer team in the fall.
“Any time we look at adding sports, what is our limitations in terms of facilities?,” Heinel said. “So what we had available as far as facilities is our women’s soccer field, so we needed a spring sport that could be played on a field that we wouldn’t have to build something new. Lacrosse fit that.”