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Harvard Athlete Numbers Drop, Gender Pay Inequity Persists for Coaching Staff

Harvard's athletic teams practice at the athletic complex across the Charles River. The number of students participating in a varsity sport decreased by more than 90 players last year.
Harvard's athletic teams practice at the athletic complex across the Charles River. The number of students participating in a varsity sport decreased by more than 90 players last year. By Kathryn S. Kuhar
By Jo B. Lemann, Crimson Staff Writer

The number of Harvard undergraduates participating in a varsity sport decreased by more than 90 last year, and pay discrepancies between coaching staff for men’s and women’s teams has persisted, according to a report filed by Harvard in October.

Harvard released the data in compliance with the Equity in Athletics Disclosure Act, which requires the University to release data about men’s and women’s sports teams.

Under Title IX, Harvard is required by federal law to provide equal treatment and opportunities — including equal facilities, equipment, ability to participate in sports, and support services — for male and female athletes.

Last year’s drop in athlete count, which was roughly even on men’s and women’s teams, comes three years after the National Collegiate Athletics Association granted student athletes whose seasons were canceled due to Covid-19 an extra year of eligibility.

The rowing and football teams both saw significant decreases in size this year, with the men’s and women’s rowing teams together losing 45 players and the football team losing 17.

Tyler J. Neville ’24, a senior tight end for the football team, wrote in a statement that he thought the decreased participation reflected the end of the extended Covid-19 eligibility for athletes affected by the pandemic.

Neville wrote that during his sophomore year, the team was so “massive” that there were not enough lockers for all of the players.

Overall, Harvard’s filing showed that 619 men participated in a varsity team in 2023, compared to 480 women. In 2022, there were 663 male athletes and 528 female athletes.

The filing also reported that in 2023, head coaches for men’s sports teams at Harvard continued to earn, on average, nearly $30,000 more than head coaches for women’s teams. Head coaches for men’s teams earned an average of ​​$149,652 while their counterparts on women’s teams earned an average of $119,899.

While the data indicates an overall increase in salary, there was not a significant narrowing of the compensation gap between head coaches for men’s and women’s teams from the year before. During 2022, the average salary for the head coaches of men’s teams was $137,709, and the average for women’s teams head coaches was $107,216.

Five years prior, in 2018, the pay discrepancy between head coaches of men’s and women’s teams was nearly $36,000.

In this year’s filing, assistant coaches for men’s teams also earned around $11,000 more than assistant coaches for women’s head coaches with an average salary of $64,691 compared to $53,335 for women’s teams coaches.

In an October interview with The Crimson, Athletic Director Erin McDermott said that the University’s compensation model used “gender-neutral factors” as part of the Massachusetts Equal Pay Act to determine coaching salaries. McDermott cited varying experience levels as one gender-neutral factor impacting pay discrepancy.

Harvard spokesperson Jonathan Palumbo in an emailed statement that “all coaches for each sport are compensated based on the same criteria.”

The 2023 filing also showed that Harvard’s men’s teams reported a total of $16,965,600 in expenses while the women’s team reported $12,307,321. The recruiting expenses for men’s teams were also significantly higher than for women’s teams — a difference of almost $400,000.

In an interview with The Crimson last year, McDermott explained that recruiting expenses are “totally based on personal preference” of coaches.

—Staff writer Jo B. Lemann can be reached at jo.lemann@thecrimson.com. Follow her on X @Jo_Lemann.

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