Sports journalism should include far more than game reports, reviews, columns and the occasional profile. The best sections address important issues related to sports.
Title IX is one of the most significant issues on college campuses, but it is a topic that is rarely reported in college media, which is a shame since the data is out there. So I’m always impressed when I find solid stories like this one by the Badger Herald’s Anne Blackbourn and this one by several writers at the Amherst Student.
Let’s look at some ways to develop a story using a database. In this case, I’ll address Title IX.
- First, you’ll need to understand the issue. In this case, you would review Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972, which, by the way, was not originally intended to focus on athletics, as you’ll learn for yourself. Here’s an excerpt:
The principal objective of Title IX is to avoid the use of federal money to support sex discrimination in education programs and to provide individual citizens effective protection against those practices. Title IX applies, with a few specific exceptions, to all aspects of federally funded education programs or activities. In addition to traditional educational institutions such as colleges, universities, and elementary and secondary schools, Title IX also applies to any education or training program operated by a recipient of federal financial assistance.
2. Next, you’ll need to either access a database or do the reporting to develop your own database. In this case, I relied on this amazing database (Equity in Athletics Data Analysis), which is compiled by the U.S. Department of Education.
3. Once at this database, you can search for your school’s information, can compare your school to other conference schools, download custom data or generate your own data. For the sake of this assignment, we’re going to first go to the blue button that states: Get Data for One School. Select your own school and review the data.
I selected my school, Eastern Illinois University. Below is how the screen appears.
4. In order to more fully understand anything, we need comparisons. You can compare your school to other programs in your conference, your state, your region, or even against top-ranked national programs. In this case, I am going to compare EIU to other schools within the Ohio Valley Conference so I clicked on the orange button that states: Compare Data for Multiple Schools.
Once there, you can select up to four schools at a time. On the screen below, you would hit CONTINUE.
5. Then, click on your school and then CONTINUE again.
6. Before you go any further, delete any school name in the upper left (such as Eastern Illinois University, which is in blue below). After that, scroll down and determine your criteria. In this case, you can select “Conference of the NCAA or NAIA” and then click the appropriate box on the scroll-down menu to the right. I selected Ohio Valley Conference.
7. Once there, the names of the conference schools appears. At this point, you can select four institutions at a time. I typically start at the top and work down alphabetically. Then, hit CONTINUE. Repeat this process until you have reviewed every school in the conference.
8. After you click CONTINUE on the screen above, you will see this screen below.
9. At this point, I start inserting data into columns on a piece of paper, but you could skip this step and insert them directly into an EXCEL document. I prefer writing by hand since I think better that way. Plus, I prefer to know the types of data I will eventually use before creating a digital document. Proceed in whatever way works best for you.
I started by recording very basic data: school enrollment, total number of athletes by gender and overall, average head coach salaries for both men’s and women’s sports as well as the same data for assistant coaches, and fund spent on student aid and recruiting for both men’s and women’s teams. To better understand Title IX compliance, review funding comparisons between genders in as many categories as possible.
If I were actually writing a story on this topic, I would plan to look at data for each individual team. Budgets and data sets like this can easily yield content for multiple stories, which is often how to approach these stories: in smaller pieces. Otherwise, reporters unaccustomed to reporting on finances and data can get overwhelmed. (By the way, here’s how some reporters used data to uncover excessive spending at the collegiate level.)
10. After I list the data for each school, I insert it into the Excel document shown below. In this format, I could more easily compare numbers to determine, among other things:
- which athletics programs had the largest gaps between men’s and women’s teams head coaching salaries.
- which athletic programs had the largest gaps between men’s and women’s teams assistant coaching salaries.
- which athletic programs had the largest gaps between revenue and expenses for men’s and women’s teams.
- which athletic programs had the largest gaps for money spent on recruiting for men’s and women’s teams.
Ultimately, these gaps often drive these stories, and they can also help lead reporters toward further reporting on the topic.
- Outlier: SIU-Edwardville is the only school where the average salary for women’s team head coaches is higher than that for its men’s team coaches: $64,6662 vs. $62,845.Were I to write this story, I would dig even deeper into that school’s program to try and understand the reason for this. One possibility: SIU-E does not field a football team, which might become a major angle for this story – especially after comparing the program to my own school. Or maybe the highest paid coaches for women’s sports are men.
- Outlier: SIU-Edwardsville spends more on women’s athletics than on men’s athletics, as does Belmont and Morehead State. Neither SIU-E nor Belmont field football programs. Morehead State does have a football team, but it also fields more women’s programs than men’s, 8-6. They also have a spirit squad, cheerleading, which is not an NCAA sport. But does Morehead count funding for cheerleading within its athletic accounting? One more possible query: Morehead State fields a co-ed rifle team. Does the school report the finding separately from either team, divide it in half or count it for women’s athletics? Check it out. Conversely, Tennessee State spends roughly 2.5 times more on men’s athletics than on women’s. Why is that university spending in significantly different ways? Offer both ends of any data set to try to understand the reasons for the different choices. At the very least, this will reveal further context on the Title IX across the conference.
- Trend: Five athletic programs pay more than double to the coaches of men’s teams than for those who coach women’s teams – and two other schools are close to spending twice as much. Check to see whether football or basketball could be the reason for the wider disparity.
12. Make sure to focus most on your own school.
Here are some EIU-centric details for a story that could run in the Daily Eastern News or the Charleston Times-Courier:
- EIU is ranked No. 1 in both total men, women and overall athletes. With 326 male athletes, Eastern has 71 more than runner-up Eastern Kentucky and more than double the number who compete at Austin Peay. Eastern also has 31 more women athletes than runner-up Murray State, which fields 223.
- EIU ranks No. 9 for salaries paid to its men’s head coaches, ahead of only SIU-Edwardsville, Tennessee Tech, UT-Martin. The $73, 142 average salary at Eastern is less than half the average paid at Belmont.
- EIU ranks No. 6 for salaries paid to its women’s head coaches. But Eastern is far closer to the three schools immediately ahead of it, which pay its coaches only several thousand dollars more than its $51,178 average.
- EIU men’s assistant coaches are ranked sixth in average salary at $36,946, about $16,000 less than No. 2 Tennessee State. Further research: Which teams pay assistants the most and least?
- EIU’s women’s assistant are ranked 10th, ahead of only Southeast Missouri and Eastern Kentucky.
- EIU spends more than double on men’s sports than on women’s, joining Austin Peay, Jacksonville State, Southeastern Missouri, Tennessee State and UT-Martin. Clearly, this is a trend to address through further investigation of this database, salary and finance databases compiled by USA Today, and one created by the NCAA. Interviews with key people at your university, such as athletic directors, college presidents, coaches, and athletes would add another layer to your stories.
13. Ultimately, list what else you might want to learn from the data, essentially developing questions to interview it more deeply. Plus, list possible story angles and additional sources.
At this point, you can write a story that focuses entirely upon the numbers. You can then follow this story with one that offers comments from key people – or, of course, you can blend this all together into a single story.
A few final suggestions:
- Clean up your Excel document and post it online for readers to use or review for themselves, as I am doing here.
- Insert multiple links, especially for databases, to allow readers to further investigate this topic, and, thus, to gain more context related to the key issues.
- Insert clips from your interviews with key people.
If you do report on an issue, such as Title IX or an athletic program’s budget, please send a link to the story. Would love to read it and any other athletics budget story.