TIMES WATCHDOG: UW is changing its policy this fall after a Seattle Times investigation found the university included dozens of women who apparently weren’t on the team in reports to the U.S. Department of Education for Title IX.

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The University of Washington will dramatically change how it counts female participation on its rowing team to comply with Title IX law, after years of claiming women were on its crew despite some of them never practicing or even stepping into a boat.

The UW is changing its policy this fall after a Seattle Times investigation found dozens of women who appear to have not been on the team but whom the university counted as participants in reports to the U.S. Department of Education for Title IX.

Universities must report how many women and men participate in each sport to adhere to the federal law passed in 1972 that requires schools to offer equal opportunities for women and men.

The UW’s new policy states it will count only women who have competed in a contest, or who have had skill instructions from a coach and physical activity in a boat or on a rowing machine for a four-week period. It will also use software to officially track daily participation.

No UW athletic department official would answer questions about the changes.

The women’s rowing team won the NCAA national championship this past spring and will compete in the Head of the Charles Oct. 21 and 22 in Boston.

In years past, the UW claimed as many as 181 women, creating a discrepancy that raised questions about whether UW athletic officials artificially inflated the numbers to avoid Title IX scrutiny and maintain federal funding.

Eight of those women told The Times they weren’t on the crew team and didn’t know the UW had counted them as members. For example, student Cassie McMaster never even stepped into a boat but was counted as a member of the 2013 rowing team. She and others went to an informational meeting in the fall but decided rowing wasn’t for them, yet the UW counted them as participants.

The average reported size of an NCAA Division I rowing team is 64 women, but the UW had, on average, reported to the Department of Education that 145 women participated in rowing each year from 2010-2014.

Last spring, UW spokesman Carter Henderson defended the numbers.

The university’s new way of defining and counting a female participant in rowing doesn’t solve the larger problem and exposes its bad practices, said Kristen Galles, a Washington, D.C., lawyer who specializes in Title IX lawsuits against universities.

“You’ve exposed they were doing it wrong, and now they want to look like they are doing better than they are,” she said. “If they gave a darn about gender equity, they would totally review the entire program and add sports” like women’s lacrosse or rugby.

She said with a lower reported participation in rowing, it will be even more apparent that the UW’s female participation in sports will not be proportional to the female student enrollment, as required by Title IX.

Seven of the past 12 years, UW has had a disparity large enough that it could have added another female sport, a Times analysis found.

UW athletic director Jennifer Cohen said in a statement that “we will continue to constantly evaluate all gender equity and inclusion practices in our department, and believe that these changes will allow us to set a clear standard for equity.”

Despite some of its changes, the UW may still be under examination because of a recent complaint filed with the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR).

Mark Rossmiller filed the complaint Aug. 12, citing The Seattle Times story and stating the UW “does not provide opportunities for women to play sports in numbers substantially proportionate to their enrollment and has went so far as to report frequently inflated women’s rowing roster numbers to cover up the institution’s noncompliance with Title IX.”

Rossmiller, of Colfax, Whitman County, has filed thousands of complaints across the country against high schools and universities alleging Title IX violations. He said he is disgusted by the systematic gender discrimination in higher education.

OCR will evaluate his complaint to determine if it has jurisdiction, if it has been filed in a timely manner and if the allegations are clear, according to the Department of Education. If OCR opens an investigation, it will notify the UW.

OCR often will enter a resolution agreement with a school to give it an opportunity to fix problems if it has violated Title IX.