NCAA Website Coverage: Do Athletic Departments Provide Equitable Gender Coverage on Their Athletic Home Web Pages?

Abstract

The purpose of the current research was to perform a content analysis on the gender coverage provided on intercollegiate athletic home Web pages. One of the primary reasons why the research is necessary is because it focuses on a not-for-profit media outlet with Title IX and ethical constraints due to the fact that the athletic departments are a part of their coinciding universities. Overall, when in comparison to the NCAA athlete and team independent standards, the results demonstrated that women were underrepresented in comparison to men within each of the units of measurement (e.g., advertisements, articles, multimedia, and photographs) presented within the study. The implications of the results are discussed further within the text. The data within the current study was collected from a dissertation that was performed by the author while attending Indiana University.

Keywords: intercollegiate athletic websites, gender coverage, college athletics

The Internet is a contemporary communication medium that provides sport organizations with the opportunity to communicate with both current and potential fan bases (Lombardo, 2007). In today’s realm of sports media, the Internet has become a major media source for fan consumption. Currently, there are hundreds of millions of Internet users worldwide, and the number of individuals accessing the World Wide Web increases at a rapid rate each year (Internet World Stats, 2007). Particularly, the Web has become a primary outlet for news consumption. While only four percent of the population went online to access news in 1995, today nearly 26% of the population accesses news content on the Web on a weekly basis (The Pew Research Center [TPRC], 2007). Furthermore, of the individuals accessing the Internet regularly, 46.5% claimed that sports were a primary entertainment source while browsing the Web (TPRC, 2007).

The mass consumption of sports news on the Internet alone makes it essential for scholars to focus on the sports coverage being provided on the Web. In addition to the growing interest, the Internet is also a unique medium, because it provides athletic teams and programs with an outlet to promote their product to fan segments. As a result, intercollegiate athletic programs have the ability to control the coverage being provided to each of their individual teams on their athletic home Web page. Thus, the athletic departments also have the unique opportunity to control the gender coverage being provided on their individual websites.

Since the athletic programs are part of their coinciding universities, the expectation would be that the athletic departments are providing equitable gender coverage on their websites due to Title IX constraints. Under Title IX, athletic institutions are required to provide women with equal opportunities within the general benefits and services program areas (Policy Interpretation, 2007). More specifically, in the “laundry list” of items stated under the third category of Title IX, athletic programs are expected to provide equitable promotions for women (National Association for Girls and Women in Sport [NAGWS], 2007). While the Internet coverage makes up only a portion of the promotional activities within the athletic department, it is still a viable concern when focusing on gender equity within college athletic programs. Furthermore, due to the fact that the universities are part of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), you would expect that the gender coverage would be equitable from an ethical standpoint as well. The current research attempted to understand the coverage provided on intercollegiate athletic websites by examining the gender coverage provided during an academic school year.

Review of Related Literature

In today’s society, the media has a major influence on the beliefs of individuals residing within our culture (Duncan, Messner, Williams, & Jensen, 1994; Kane, 1988). In fact, Coakley (1998) explained that by ignoring certain aspects of female participation in sport, the sports media is essentially shaping the public’s opinion on the value of female sports. Cunningham, Sagas, Satore, Amsden, and Schellhase (2004) added that “if girls and women are not represented in an equitable fashion by the media, then girls are not afforded the necessary exemplars to emulate” (p. 861). Thus, as a result, there is a chance that the future participation in sports can suffer, and as a result Pedersen (2002) explained that “females can lose out on the benefits provided in sports that can help them develop both professional and personal skills” (p. 420).

When focusing on past gender studies within sports settings, research has shown that women receive inequitable coverage allocations within each of the media outlets examined (Bishop, 2003; Cunningham, 2003; Duncan & Sayaovong, 1990). Recently, scholars have indicated that a difference exists in the gender coverage provided within for-profit (Cuneen & Sidwell, 1998; Fink & Kensicki, 2002) and not-for-profit (Huffman, Tuggle, & Rosengard, 2004) media outlets. Sagas, Cunningham, Wigley, and Ashley (2000) explained that a primary difference in the two types of media outlets is that for-profit sources tend to cater to the wants and needs of their customers in order to remain profitable. Cunningham et al. (2004) added the following:

Given the dependence upon consumers and consumer preferences among for-profit media sources, an alternative approach is to study the representation of men and women in not-for-profit media outlets, such as university newspapers, athletic department Internet Web sites, and/or the NCAA News, a publication of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (p. 862).

The NCAA News is a not-for-profit media outlet that has received attention from scholars in past research. Overall, research within the publication has demonstrated more favorable results for women when in comparison to for-profit media outlets (Shifflet & Revelle, 1994). Cunningham et al. (2004) confirmed the improvement in gender coverage in not-for-profit media outlets when reporting that women received 42.4% of the article coverage and 39.7% of the photographic coverage within the publication. The coverage rates presented in the study represent two of the most favorable coverage allocations for women in any media outlet.
An additional emphasis in research on not-for-profit media outlets has been the examination of gender coverage in media outlets with campus affiliation. Outside of the previous studies on the NCAA News (Cunningham et al., 2004; Shifflet & Revelle, 1994), the research on media outlets with a campus affiliation has demonstrated some of the most favorable coverage rates for women within intercollegiate athletic settings (Wann, Schrader, Allison, & McGeorge, 1998). One of the primary reasons for the more favorable coverage rates for women is the influence of Title IX on publications with campus affiliation. Additionally, Huffman et al. (2004) explained the following:

Because student journalists working for campus media belong to a generation that grew up with Title IX and because they live in college communities that include male and female student athletes, these student journalists might be more likely than professional media practitioners to cover athletes in a way that results in gender equity (p. 480).

While the coverage allocations have improved for women within not-for-profit media outlets, research has demonstrated that women are not fully represented within the campus media sources. In an analysis of campus newspapers, Wann et al. (1998) found that women were underrepresented when in direct comparison to both the female participation and enrollment rates at each of the coinciding universities examined in the study. In a similar study, Huffman et al. (2004) reiterated the previous results when demonstrating women received 27.3% of the overall newspaper coverage. Thus, despite small improvements, the results confirm that women are not fully represented within campus newspapers.

Recent research has also extended the analysis of media outlets with campus affiliation by focusing on the gender coverage provided on intercollegiate athletic websites (Sagas, Cunningham, Wigley, & Ashley, 2000). Sagas, Cunningham, Wigley, and Ashley (2000) provided an initial analysis when concluding that women’s softball teams were not fairly represented when in comparison to men’s baseball teams. Additionally, in a follow-up study, Cunningham and Sagas (2002) again demonstrated that the women’s softball team received less coverage than the men’s baseball team. On a positive note, the study demonstrated no difference in the coverage provided to the men’s and women’s basketball teams.

The purpose of the current study was to analyze the overall gender coverage provided to each of the teams contained within athletic departments on intercollegiate athletic websites. An analysis of the overall gender coverage provided on intercollegiate sites to each of the teams in the athletic department is essential for a couple of key reasons. First, as shown in the review of literature, it is clear that there is a limited amount of research available on the gender coverage provided on intercollegiate athletic websites. Further analysis would be beneficial in building new information on the media outlet. Second, in the limited research available, scholars have focused solely on the comparison between two to four similar female and male sport teams. Thus, the analysis of the coverage provided to each of the various teams housed within a college athletic department would provide new insight into the overall gender coverage rates offered on intercollegiate athletic websites. As a result, the current research provides additional depth that is useful to the literature on sports media coverage. Through an analysis of past related studies, the following hypotheses were created to guide the current research:

(1) Women will receive significantly less total overall [1A, 1B, 1C, 1D] coverage on intercollegiate athletic home Web pages than men, when in comparison to coinciding NCAA athlete and team gender participation rates.
1A) Advertisement
1B) Article
1C) Multimedia
1D) Photographic

(2) Women will receive significantly less non-scroll [2A, 2B, 2C, 2D] coverage on intercollegiate athletic home Web pages than men, when in comparison to coinciding NCAA athlete and team gender participation rates.
2A) Advertisement
2B) Article
2C) Multimedia
2D) Photographic

Methodology

The current research was a content analysis of the gender coverage provided on intercollegiate athletic home Web pages over an academic year. Particularly, the current research involved the analysis of the following four units of measurement on each individual athletic home Web page: advertisements, articles, multimedia content, and photographs. The decision was made to include the four categories, because it offers an opportunity to segment the coverage being provided on the websites. Thus, there was an opportunity not only to understand the overall gender coverage, but also to understand the gender coverage within higher quality coverage areas. Due to the nature of websites, there was an opportunity to further segment the coverage due to the fact that the sites offer advertisements and multimedia content. The advertisement content was characterized by the block advertisements provided to individual teams on athletic websites. The multimedia content was characterized as the audio and video content dedicated to individual teams on the home Web pages.

Sample
The data were collected from 30 athletic home Web pages during an academic school year. The data collection process involved a random selection of 30 programs from the NCAA Division I-A database. The sampling frame selected for the analysis was the 2005-2006 academic school year. Particularly, the following stratified samples were chosen to obtain a sample representative of each sports season presented during the school year: fall (October – December), winter (January – March), and spring (April – June). As recommended by Riffe, Lacy, and Fico (2005), a one-week random sample was taken from each of the sports seasons. Thus, the study included an analysis of 630 home Web pages during the academic year.

Data Collection
The data collection process involved a series of protocol that were developed to ensure reliability in the study. In order to accurately assess the coverage within each unit of measurement, the following measures were created to guide the coders during the data collection process: gender, location, and square inch coverage. As recommended by Malec (1994), the gender measure only included female and male, and did not include the “combined” and “neither” categories. In addition, the current research utilized a location measure that identified the area of the Web page where the coverage occurred. Similar to the front page newspaper coverage examined by Pedersen (2002), the study examined the non-scroll coverage directly available upon immediate access to the media outlet. In this case, the coverage was coined as “non-scroll” coverage, and this was characterized by the unit of measurement coverage appearing on the website prior to scrolling down the webpage. When multiple rotating stories were presented, each of the storylines were collected and considered as non-scroll coverage.

Data Analysis
Upon the completion of the data collection, the data were combined and calculated for data analysis. In order to examine the gender coverage differences, the Chi Square test was utilized in order to analyze the coverage within each of the units of measurement. Riffe, Lacy, and Fico (2005) explained that the Chi Square test is the most common statistical method used in content analysis research. Additionally, as stated by Pedersen (2002), it is necessary to develop an independent standard in order to compare the results to the expected outcome. The current research utilized the same independent standards adopted by Cunningham et al. (2004) in their analysis of the NCAA News: (1) NCAA individual athlete gender participation rates, and (2) NCAA team gender participation rates. The NCAA Sports Sponsorship and Participation Rates Report (NCAA Sports, 2006) was used to calculate both the percentage of athletes (women = 42.1%; men = 57.9%) and teams (women = 53.2%; men = 46.8%) participating in the NCAA. The rates were calculated according to the teams that were included in the study.

Results

Overall, the analysis of 630 intercollegiate athletic home Web pages produced 43,866 square inches for analysis. As shown in Table 1, the results demonstrated that the units of measurement each received the following square inch coverage allocations: advertisements (7,712 square inches), articles (19,311 square inches), multimedia (1,522 square inches), and photographic (15,321 square inches). Similarly, when focusing on location of the units of measurement, the results revealed that 57% of all of the coverage was considered non-scroll coverage. The results of the overall and non-scroll coverage for each of the units of measurement are presented in the following sections.

Table 1
Gender Coverage Allocations within the Four Units of Measurement

Gender Advertisement Article Multimedia Photograph
Men 5420(70.3%) 11587(60.0%) 1189(78.1%) 9240(60.3%)
Women 2292(29.7%) 7724(40.0%) 333(21.9%) 6081(39.7%)
Total 7712(100%) 19311(100%) 1522(100%) 15321(100%)

Note. Data in Square Inches and Percentages.

Article Coverage
The analysis of the article unit of measurement helped demonstrate the article coverage provided to women and men on intercollegiate athletic websites. In comparison to the other four units of measurement presented in the study, the results demonstrated that women received a slightly more favorable coverage allocation within the article unit of measurement. Overall, women received 40.0% of the total article coverage included in the study. Despite receiving a slightly higher coverage allocation, the Chi Square comparison (Table 3) revealed a significant difference than men when in comparison to the 42.1% female athlete participation rate (x² = 34.95, df 1, p < .05) and 53.2% female team participation rate (x² = 1351.86, df 1, p < .05).

Further analysis of the article unit of measurement demonstrated that women received a less favorable coverage allocation when focusing on the location of the coverage. In comparison to the number of female athletes active at the intercollegiate level, the results showed that the 36.4% non-scroll article coverage rate provided to women was significantly below the 63.6% coverage allocation offered to men (x² = 1351.86, df 1, p < .05). Similarly, when in comparison to team participation rates, the results illustrated that women were once again underrepresented when in comparison to men (x² = 868.57, df 1, p < .05).

Advertisement Coverage
In the analysis of the advertisement unit of measurement, the results demonstrated that women received 29.7% of all of the advertisement coverage included on the intercollegiate websites. In comparison, males received 70.3% of the overall advertisement coverage included during the study. As shown in Table 4, when in comparison to the overall female athlete (x² = 484.87, df 1, p < .05) and team participation rates (x² = 1707.68, df 1, p < .05), the advertisement allocation provided to women was significantly less than the advertisement coverage provided to men on the athletic sites.

Similar to the previous article unit of measurement, women received an even less favorable coverage allocation when focusing on the non-scroll advertisement coverage. In fact, the difference between the overall advertisement coverage and the non-scroll advertisement coverage represented an 8.8% decrease in coverage. When in comparison to athlete participation rates, the results confirmed that women received significantly less advertisement coverage in prime locations when in comparison to men (x² = 638.99, df 1, p < .05). Further analysis demonstrated that women were further underrepresented when in comparison to NCAA team participation rates (x² = 1452.13, df 1, p < .05).

Multimedia Coverage
Overall, when in comparison to the other units of measurement, the multimedia coverage area contained the least favorable coverage allocations for women. Particularly, as illustrated in Table 5, the investigation showed that the 21.9% multimedia coverage allocation provided to women was significantly less than the 78.1% coverage allocation provided to men (x² = 254.50, df 1, p <.05). Furthermore, when in comparison to team participation rates, the results demonstrated that women received slightly less favorable coverage allocations x² = 597.16, df 1, p < .05). Thus, women received even less coverage within units of measurement with a higher potential to influence fan consumption habits.

Similar to the article and advertisement coverage, the analysis of non-scroll multimedia coverage revealed a coverage allocation slightly below the 21.9% overall multimedia coverage rate provided to women. Overall, the Chi Square analysis helped determine that the 20.4% non-scroll multimedia coverage rate provided to women was significantly less the 79.6% coverage rate provided to men (x² = 164.56, df 1, p < .05). Similarly, the analysis also confirmed that females were severely underrepresented as well when in comparison to the NCAA team participation rates (x² = 367.64, df 1, p < .05).

Photographic Coverage
Overall, when in comparison to the other units of measurement, the photographic coverage area represented the second most favorable unit of measurement coverage for women. Despite demonstrating a more favorable coverage allocation, the 39.7% photographic coverage allocation provided to women was significantly lower than the 60.3% coverage allocation provided to men when in comparison to the individual athlete independent standard (x² = 36.5, df 1, p < .05). Similarly, the results also confirmed that women were underrepresented in comparison to men when focusing on the NCAA team coverage rates (x² = 1123.05, df 1, p < .05).

Despite still remaining underrepresented when in comparison to men (x² = 100.33, df 1,
p < .05), the 37.7% non-scroll photographic coverage allocation provided to women was the most favorable non-scroll unit of measurement rate provided to women during the investigation. While the coverage allocation is somewhat favorable, the results showed that females still received significantly less coverage than men when in comparison to the 53.2% female NCAA team participation rate (x² = 1248.36, df 1, p < .05). Thus, as a result, women received significantly less coverage than men in each of the units of measurement examined during the study.

Discussion

Similar to the study performed by Cunningham et al. (2004), the essential question when analyzing the gender results is to ask the question whether the glass is half full or whether the glass is half empty. In other words, the significance of the results provided to females within the study was dependent upon how you chose to interpret the data. On one hand, there was a unique opportunity to demonstrate a favorable response when the data were compared to past content analyses focusing on gender coverage in sports media outlets (Bishop, 2003; Fink & Kensicki, 2002). On the other hand, the results were not as promising when the data were compared to NCAA athlete and team gender participation rates (NCAA Sports, 2006). Depending on the area of focus, the glass could have either been half full or half empty.

A Revisited Perspective – Half Empty
An ideal starting point for analyzing the coverage allocations provided to women in the current study involved the direct comparison of results to present NCAA gender participation rates. When focusing on the comparison with NCAA athlete (42.1%) and team (53.2%) gender participation rates, the results revealed that the women were underrepresented in comparison to males in each of the units of measurement analyzed. In addition to the investigation of overall coverage allocation and units of measurement coverage allocations, the current research added depth by focusing on the coverage provided to women in prime website locations. Similar to a study performed by Pedersen (2002), the results of the study confirmed that women received slightly less favorable coverage allocations when focusing on the non-scroll coverage. Thus, the results confirmed that women received less attention than men in locations with more potential to reach fan segments.

In addition to the analysis of non-scroll coverage, the current research also provided additional insight by further segmenting the types of coverage offered on intercollegiate athletic websites. Overall, the segmentation provided the opportunity to examine the gender coverage being provided in the units of measurement with a higher potential to influence fan consumption habits. Thus, the lower coverage allocations within the advertisement (29.7%) and multimedia (21.9%) units of measurement for females is somewhat disappointing considering the coverage areas tend to draw more attention than your traditional article and photographic units of measurement.

The lack of coverage allocated to females on websites is a critical issue for a variety of different reasons. As illustrated by Cunningham et al. (2004), when females are not provided equitable coverage, then younger generations of athletes are not provided with role models to emulate. Thus, there is an opportunity that future participation interest in female sports will suffer because athletic departments are sending the message that female athletic teams are not important. Furthermore, with a potential lack of opportunities, females can lose out on important professional skills that are learned through participation in sports. In order to ensure that females are provided with an equal opportunity to succeed within intercollegiate athletics, athletic departments must provided equitable coverage allocations to female athletes.

A Varying Perspective – Half Full
An additional perspective on the gender coverage that was provided during the study is that the results were promising when in comparison to past content analyses on sports media outlets (Huffman et al., 2004). As previously mentioned, the results can potentially be seen as a step forward for women when judging them based upon past research focusing on for-profit media outlets. For example, when in comparison to the 10% of overall article and photographic coverage provided to women in Sports Illustrated (Fink & Kensicki, 2002), the article (40%) and photographic (39.7%) coverage provided to women in the current study helps demonstrate an overall improvement in the type of coverage being offered to female athletes.

An additional area of consideration when evaluating the results from the current study involves the direct comparison to content analyses examining not-for-profit media outlets (Sagas et al., 2004; Shifflet & Revelle, 1994). When in comparison to the not-for-profit media outlets, the results of the study are still somewhat promising. Overall, while the 40% article coverage rate is slightly lower than the allocation reported by Cunningham et al. (2004), the results confirmed an identical photographic coverage rate (39.7%) when in comparison to the previous study. Despite the fact that the article coverage is slightly lower than that which was reported by Cunningham et al. (2004), the results are still very promising considering the fact that the study focused on the coverage being provided on intercollegiate athletic websites. In contrast, the previous study by Cunningham et al. (2004) had focused on the gender coverage within the NCAA News. Thus, the results overall helped confirm that the glass seems to be half full due to the fact that women were being taken seriously within the not-for-profit intercollegiate athletic websites.

Conclusion

In future years, it is critical that minority groups of athletes receive an equal opportunity to succeed within intercollegiate athletic environments. In order to ensure equitable participation opportunities, athletic departments must monitor coverage on their home Web page to ensure that females are receiving fair coverage allocations. Particularly, there needs to be an emphasis on higher quality coverage areas to ensure that female sport teams are being provided with significant advertisement and multimedia content. Additionally, it is critical that females are provided with sufficient amounts of non-scroll coverage so that they are recognized as important entities to athletic programs in future years.

In addition to the previously addressed concerns, the gender coverage on intercollegiate athletic websites is also important for another crucial reason: the intercollegiate websites set gender coverage precedence for independent media outlets without NCAA affiliation. After all, when athletic departments provide inequitable gender coverage on their home websites, they are sending a message to independent media outlets that female sports participation is not important. As a result, independent media outlets such as Sports Illustrated and USA Today have even less incentive to cover female athletics in their publications. Thus, it is critical that athletic departments understand the importance of setting a positive precedence for independent media outlets.

In the future, it will be important that scholars continue to focus on the gender coverage being provided on intercollegiate athletic websites. A limitation of the current research is that it focused on the gender coverage on the websites during an academic year. In order to provide additional insight, future research should examine the gender coverage over a longer time frame to determine whether the coverage provided to females is improving over time. Additionally, scholars could also provide additional depth to the study by investigating the gender coverage provided during the summer months.

In addition to the investigation of intercollegiate athletic websites, future studies should also focus on identifying the gender coverage being provided on a variety of different sites featured on the Internet. For example, scholars could focus on the units of measurement coverage provided on conference websites to determine the message being sent by NCAA conferences. Furthermore, in addition to the gender coverage provided on sites with NCAA affiliation, future research should also examine the individual team coverage being provided on websites. The identification of individual team coverage not only provides data to alleviate gender inequalities, it offers an opportunity to understand the men’s nonrevenue teams receiving inequitable coverage allocations.

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