Results of male practice players survey released
April 17, 2007
After more than two years of debate — both inside and outside the governance structure — about whether to limit or even eliminate the use of male practice players in women’s sports, the NCAA has collected data from athletics administrators and coaches in all three divisions to better assess both the extent to which male practice players are used and the effect they have on participation opportunities for female student-athletes.
Survey results show widespread use of male practice players in all three divisions — most prominently in women’s basketball and to a lesser degree in volleyball and soccer — and most respondents said male practice players don’t change how the non-starting members of a team are used in practice and don’t affect the number of grants-in-aid schools award to female student-athletes.
Specifically, survey results show:
• Two-thirds of all Division I institutions reported using male practice players in at least one women’s sport in 2005-06. Two-thirds of Division I women’s basketball teams also reported use, about one-third of which said they used male practice players almost every day.
• About 35 percent of Division II schools and 40 percent of Division III institutions reported using male practice players as well.
• About two-thirds of Division I women’s basketball and volleyball squads and more than 80 percent in soccer reported no change in how non-starting team members were used when male practice players were used.
• Only two schools (one each in Divisions I and II) said they recruited fewer female players or provided fewer scholarships because of using male practice players.
• More basketball teams use male practice players in the championship segment than do volleyball and soccer teams, which concentrate use more in the nonchampionship portions of the playing and practice season.
The intent of the survey was to gain a more realistic assessment of the types of use on campus rather than rely on anecdotal evidence. Only Division III included philosophical questions about eliminating or limiting the practice, since that division is the only one to have considered legislative modifications so far. Division III delegates at the January Convention considered and subsequently deferred a proposal from the Division III Student-Athlete Advisory Committee to limit the use of male practice players to once per week during the traditional season and to no more than half the number of players required to field a starting team.
When asked about eliminating the practice, about one-fourth of the Division III membership indicated support. However, more than 90 percent of the schools that used male practice players in 2005-06 opposed a ban, and even of those schools that did not use male practice players in 2005-06, almost two-thirds said they would not want the practice eliminated.
The Division III survey did reveal interest in limitations, though, as about half overall indicated support for limiting both the frequency of use and the number of players that can be used. Even half the schools that used male practice players in 2005-06 agreed with that approach.
The Divisions II and III Management Councils reviewed the survey results during meetings April 16-17 in Indianapolis. The Division I Management Council, which also met April 16, has asked its Championships/Competition Cabinet to study the results and make recommendations. A subcommittee of that group was briefed on the matter during an April 19 conference call. The full cabinet expects to review the issue at its next meeting in June.
NCAA Senior Vice President for Championships Joni Comstock said the comprehensive review was appropriate, given the number of years the practice has gone relatively unregulated. The Division I survey indicated schools have been using male practice players for an average of about seven years, and fewer than 16 percent of schools that used male practice players said they had formal policies governing their use.
“The use of male practice players has gone on for many years without formal review, and it is time to consider if the practice is in the best interests of women student-athletes,” Comstock said.
With usage numbers now in hand, both the Division II and III Councils agreed to seek more feedback from their respective governance structures and coaches associations on the appropriateness of using males in practice situations. It remains to be seen whether that solicitation will lead to proposed legislation for the 2008 Convention.
Survey response rates were high in all three divisions, highlighted by the 95.4 percent response in Division I. Divisions II and III earned response rates of 86.8 percent and 77.1 percent, respectively.
“The response indicates that people have become engaged in the issue, which is a positive outcome,” said Carolyn Femovich, executive director of the Patriot League and chair of the Division I Championships/Competition Cabinet. “The survey is intended to get people talking at the campus level about the pros and cons and the management of the issue. That clearly has been accomplished. If you don’t ask the question, you don’t know what’s actually happening on campus and why coaches believe it may or may not be an important issue.”
The issue of male practice players emerged in October 2004 when the NCAA Committee on Women’s Athletics, in accordance with its mission of protecting and enhancing female student-athlete participation opportunities, began questioning whether the use of male practice players reduced opportunities for women athletes. The committee urged a three-pronged review to determine whether the practice was widespread, whether the membership was adequately educated about male practice player eligibility requirements, and whether legislative modifications were necessary.
Though several constituencies have been outspoken on the issue since then — including the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association, which said it would oppose elimination of the practice — the NCAA did not take a position on the issue until research could inform a decision through the governance structure. The recently conducted survey represents the best opportunity for the NCAA membership to take that approach.
“With an issue of this nature, it is imperative to have a process in place that allows the issue to be well vetted in the membership,” Femovich said. “We now have the research necessary to inform those discussions.”
• Of the 312 schools responding, 205 (65.7 percent) said they used male practice players in 2005-06.
• The sports most frequently using male practice players are basketball (61.2 percent of sponsorship), volleyball (16.4 percent) and soccer (10.3 percent).
• Usage was more frequent in basketball, as 20 teams reported daily use and 47 others reported using male practice players four to six times per week. In volleyball and soccer, most teams reported occasional use (one to three times per week or just a few times per month).
• Results show no meaningful statistical relationship between the squad size and the number of male practice players.
• Results show no meaningful statistical relationship between the number of grants-in-aid awarded and the number of male practice players.
• About two-thirds of women’s basketball and volleyball squads and more than 80 percent in soccer reported no change in how non-starting team members were used when male practice players were used.
• Of the 257 schools responding, 89 (34.6 percent) said they used male practice players in 2005-06.
• The sports most frequently using male practice players are basketball (24.8 percent of sponsorship), volleyball (10.4 percent) and soccer (6.8 percent).
• Frequency of use was reported primarily as occasional (one to three times per week or just a few times per month) in basketball and volleyball.
• About 75 percent of respondents reported no change in how non-starting team members were used when male practice players were used.
• Only one institution reported an impact on financial aid decisions.
• Of the 337 schools responding, 136 (40.4 percent) said they used male practice players in 2005-06.
• The sports most frequently using male practice players are basketball (26.2 percent of sponsorship), volleyball (12.4 percent) and soccer (6.6 percent).
• Almost all respondents reported frequency of use as one to three times per week or just a few times per month.
• For the most part, the role of non-starting team members went unchanged when male practice players were used; however, there was a slight increase when compared to the starters in the number of instances of being relegated to the bench or implementing the visiting team’s offense.