As a father of three girls, all of whom played competitive sports on the high school level, I am supportive of the goals of Title IX. It’s apparent to anyone who remembers what the state of women’s collegiate sports was like in the ’60s and ’70s that some leveling of the playing field was needed.
The devil is in the details, though. There is a present a tension between the requirements of Title IX, the demographics of current college enrollment (most schools have a significant female majority enrolled) and the fact that for most schools, only a handful of college athletic programs are profitable that is often difficult to reconcile without some pain.
James Madison University, which football team won the NCAA’s Division I-AA national championship in 2004, provides an example of what happens when a school makes choices balancing regulatory requirements and budgetary needs. Last year the school, citing several reasons, chose to eliminate ten athletic programs. (Note that the school made cuts in both men’s and women’s athletics.)
Needless to say, there are many who are unhappy about the decision. More specifically, there is resentment over the football program remaining untouched:
Gender-equity advocates argue that applying Title IX’s proportionality prong is a choice, not a necessity. If its application harms male and female athletes, they say, then universities ought to find other ways to comply with the law. The advocates are also frustrated that colleges are using gender-equity law as an excuse for cutbacks they are making for a variety of reasons.
“Title IX is being blamed unfairly for institutional decisions that have to do with priorities and finances,” says Judith M. Sweet, a longtime gender-equity expert and recently retired senior vice president for championships and education services at the National Collegiate Athletic Association. James Madison had other options for achieving compliance, she says.
One alternative would be to rein in spending on big-budget sports like football. For example, rosters that are typically close to 100 — James Madison’s is 99 — could be brought closer to National Football League size, 53.
“It’s called downsizing,” says Mary Jo Kane, director of the Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. “The money that you would save would go a long way toward supporting other sports.”
Let’s skip the whole notion of a “gender-equity expert” for a minute. The problem here is that for many schools, football makes money:
But football is one of the few college sports that generates significant revenue, and athletics officials are reluctant to trim their rosters. They do not want to disarm their teams unilaterally, and new divisionwide legislation from the NCAA that would cap rosters seems like a long shot. Mr. Bourne says he would not put his football squad, which won the NCAA’s Division I-AA national championship in 2004, at a competitive disadvantage.
I’m not sure there’s a fair solution here. But I suspect that something like this isn’t going to satisfy the disaffected:
Gender-equity advocates worry that cutting men’s and women’s programs, and blocking female club teams from varsity competition, may become an increasingly common strategy for compliance with Title IX.
Lamar Daniel, a consultant who worked with James Madison on its recent decision, knows of at least two institutions where similar moves are likely to be announced within a year.
He, for one, is unapologetic about such changes. “There is no constitutional right to play anything,” he says. “Young people are resilient. They’ll get over it.”
For some reason, I smell a lawsuit…