The Truth About the Women’s Sports Foundation and Their Study on Athletic Participation Rates

We heard back by phone from Associated Press sports editor Terry Taylor about the problems we pointed out in reporter Melissa Murphy’s story about a Women’s Sports Foundation (WSF) study — “Who’s Playing College Sports? Money, Race and Gender — that concluded male athletes hadn’t been harmed by Title IX. Taylor was diligent in looking into the matter and we at the College Sports Council certainly appreciate her effort.

Taylor agreed that the story fell short of AP standards and should have included a more balanced perspective on the study and on Title IXpolicy. She also indicated that the story should have disclosed that the WSF, which released the findings, is an interest group with a specific policy bias on the issue. She assured us that the AP would do a better job the next time that a story on Title IX arose.

But that said, it seems apparent to us that the Women’s Sports Foundation misled reporters about their “study” in several key respects. We did some further investigating of our own and would like to share what we found with readers:

  • When the study was first released, on September 23, the WSFprovided no link to the source data that was used in the research — instead they only released their executive summary. We soon realized why — that source data is being actively withheld from public view. The 1995 data that serves as the starting point for the research is being held by professor JohnCheslock at the University of Arizona. The other data, from theNCAA, is being held at NCAA headquarters in Indianapolis — and they refused all requests to make it available. As anyone who covers social science knows, unless researchers show their source data, any study is unverifiable and meaningless — especially when the overall findings are presented by a group with a vested interest in the outcome.
  • What’s worse still is that WSF represented the 1995 baseline data as though it were independent, government material — describing it as “analyses of Equity in Athletics Disclosure Act(EADA) data.” But in reality, that data was collected by theWSF itself. That’s right — they sent out forms to schools and collected the results directly. There’s no way to verify their accuracy.
  • Now comes the real kicker. WSF presented professor JohnCheslock as an independent researcher who compiled the study. Indeed, that’s how he was described in various news accounts including the AP‘s story and also in the Wall Street Journal. We asked the AP to confirm whether Cheslock was compensated — and editor Terry Taylor told us that WSFclaimed not to have paid Cheslock. But WSF’s claim is flat-out false. In Cheslock’s curriculum vitae, he indicates that WSFgave him a grant of more than $65,000 to conduct the study. Here is a link to the CV and the relevant excerpts:

Principal Investigator, Intercollegiate Athletics Participation Study, Women’s Sports Foundation; $65,552;

August 2006 – July 2008.

The principal investigator is currently pursuing research on the effect of Title IX on intercollegiate athletics, which is funded through July 31, 2008, by a research grant from the Women’s Sport Foundation. While active, this project requires 20% of his time. He has no other current or pending support.

So, to sum up. An activist interest group released a study they claimed was independent research — but in fact they compiled the baseline data themselves.

They claim the data is accurate — but there’s no way to review it nor verify how it was compiled.

They said an independent academic researcher did the analysis — but in fact he was paid tens of thousands of dollars by an activist group with a stake in the outcome. And many reporters were brazenly misled by these distortions.

Here’s the bottom line: the WSF study is unreliable and their public release is intellectual dishonesty of the worst sort, especially since the consequences of their advocacy means the continued elimination of so many athletic opportunities because of their whitewashing of Title IX‘s proportionality requirement.

We would urge reporters and news outlets that were deceived by WSFto follow up with them and demand hard answers and real accountability.

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