Editorial: FAU must do better job explaining false Title IX numbers

“We believe the cause was simply a clerical error.”

That was the gist of the explanation given by Florida Atlantic University officials when confronted with an embarrassing discovery by The Palm Beach Post that the school reported false numbers greatly exaggerating how many women played for its sports teams — numbers that instantly brought the school into compliance with Title IX, the 45-year -old federal law that prohibits sex-based discrimination in schools.

Post staff writer Kenny Jacoby found that in 2017, only a year after FAU reported that women represented only 31 percent of its student-athletes but roughly half its total school enrollment — worst among the 127 colleges participating in the highest level sports — the school experienced a miraculous turnaround claiming that 51 percent of its athletes were women.

RELATED: Gender equality? FAU gave feds false numbers, ranked near bottom

It wasn’t true. As Jacoby reported: “The 20 percentage-point jump was based on an inflated number. To arrive at the higher percentage, FAU counted dozens of women athletes who did not exist.

“FAU reported it had more than doubled the number of athletes on its women’s track team from the previous year, but the team’s own website shows that was far from the case.

“The staggering numbers: FAU reported having 98 women’s track athletes. The roster showed no more than 43, and the team photo showed 38. The number boosted a key measure used to determine whether schools are complying with sex-based discrimination laws.”

FAU officials eventually owned up to the false numbers, and even corrected them to submit in a new report to the U.S. Department of Education and NCAA, the governing body for college athletics.

But when asked how such a “clerical error” could have happened, FAU served up a still as-yet-unnamed former employee as the culprit.

How did this former employee manage to file a report to a federal agency that completely obliterated the athletic department’s female participation gap without the “reporting official,” Brian Battle, or any other higher-level supervisor taking notice?

How did such a glaring improvement not raise a red flag among administration officials?

FAU is not the only state university with big-time college sports programs that struggles to meet participation and scholarship requirements under Title IX. Indeed, the Post found that the University of Miami, University of Central Florida and University of South Florida all have gaps greater than 1 percent between female athletes and the scholarship dollars awarded to female athletes, a violation of the federal law.

But FAU is our school. We take pride in its accomplishments. We care about what happens to its students because our children attend there. And we care how its administration conducts itself because FAU subsists off of our tax dollars.

After The Post’s initial story appeared online Friday, FAU put out a statement on its own website titled, “FAU Statement Regarding Inaccurate Palm Beach Post Story,” disparaging Jacoby and the Post for revealing the school’s false figures.

“In regard to FAU’s allocation of athletic scholarships, the revised report shows that in 2016-2017, 43.1 percent of FAU’s student-athletes were female and they received 45.0 percent of FAU’s athletic scholarship dollars, for a 1.9 percent difference in favor of female student-athletes,” the statement said.

The school does not explain how it came to the new 45 percent figure regarding women’s share of athletic scholarships, after it originally reported that figure was a dismal 36 percent.

And its effort to blame a reporter for, essentially, not helping whitewash the admittedly false numbers before publication is just asinine.

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Running afoul of a long-standing federal program meant to bolster the participation of college female athletes gives FAU — and our community — a black eye. One that can’t simply be erased with Wite-Out.

Where did the false numbers even come from? What controls have been put in place to ensure this type of error doesn’t happen again? What is FAU doing to remain in compliance with Title IX guidelines going forward?

Accountability may begin with fixing numbers, but it ends with fixing the system. And that requires better answers.

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