Tuesday, July 11, 2006

It's Football, Stupid, Not Title IX

John Tierney gets it wrong, as usual.

John Tierney, NYTimes: Let the Guys Win One (TimesSelect wall)

His thesis:

When Title IX was enacted in 1972, women were a minority on college campuses, and it sounded reasonable to fight any discrimination against them. But now men are the underachieving minority on campus, as a series by The Times has been documenting. So why is it so important to cling to the myth behind Title IX: that women need sports as much as men do?

Yes, some women are dedicated athletes, and they should be encouraged with every opportunity. But a lot of others have better things to do, like study or work on other extracurricular activities that will be more useful to their careers. For decades, athletic directors have been creating women’s sports teams and dangling scholarships and hoping to match the men’s numbers, but they’ve learned that not even the Department of Education can eradicate gender differences.

At the University of Maryland, the women’s lacrosse team won national championships year after year but still had a hard time getting 40 players to turn out for the team. The men’s team had no such trouble, because guys were more than willing to warm the bench even if they weren’t getting a scholarship, but the coach had to cut the extra ones to maintain the gender balance. The school satisfied Title IX, but to no one’s benefit.

On or off campus, men play more team sports and watch more team sports.

The facts:

The foundation of Title IX is not the 'myth' that women need sports as much as men do. Title IX is an amendment to a federal education bill; its central thesis is that women, who pay the same tuition and taxes as men, should receive the same opportunities to participate in sports programs. It only applies to institutions that choose to receive federal funds. Any private school that doesn't want to treat men and women equally in sports can do so: just forgo federal funds. It's called equality, John Tierney, as much as you disdain it. Or maybe you're just an originalist, believing "We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created equal..." really only applies to men.

The vast majority of colleges and universities are not in compliance with Title IX; they spend more money on their smaller percentage of male undergraduates than they do on their larger percentage of female undergraduates.

Title IX has never been enforced by the federal government. No university has ever lost federal funds for Title IX violations.

So what's the real problem here? Why are administrators creating teams that women aren't interested in? It's a two-fold problem, and it all comes back to football.

Football is the Achilles heel of college sports programs. It is the ultimate sacred cow. Colleges routinely carry football squads at the Division I-A limit of 85 players. (The maximum number of players who can actually suit up for a game is 40.) A large proportion of most college sports programs funding goes to football. So, colleges need to balance out football.

I am unaware of any school that actually spends its athletic funds equally on men and women. That would be the simple way to comply with Title IX. But that ain't gonna happen, not while the most athletic directors are male and most college leadership is male. So how else can a school comply? The government still relies on guidelines passed over 30 years ago to give colleges ways to comply with Title IX without actually providing equal money or opportunities. (Or as we say here in the reality-based community, ways to get around the law.) The so-called 'three-prong' test gives schools three ways to comply: (1) TRY; {a good-faith effort to accommodate women's interests), (2) SUCCESSFUL TRY (show that women's interests are completely accommodated, even if you're not equal), and (3) CLOSE ENOUGH FOR THE OFFICE OF CIVIL RIGHTS, (proportionality, that your playing opportunities for men and women are roughly proportional to their numbers in the student body).

Well, it's a little late for the first two prongs to be relevant (how can you show a history when you've been out of compliance for 30 years?) so most schools try to show proportionality.

So schools are trying to balance out those 85 football spots. There may be a million guys out there who want to wrestle, or play lacrosse, or cycle. But schools prefer to give men scholarships to back up the football bench rather than reduce football squads.

Therefore, schools need to create women's sports to make their numbers proportional. But because schools spend so much of their sports money on football, schools want to push cheap women's sports. That's why schools all over the country have cut their very popular women's gymnastics programs. Expensive, between the equipment and the insurance. Instead, they've added sports teams that are big and require little equipment. Wonder why crew and rowing are all over US college campuses? Colleges report squads of 70, 80, 90 female crew members. They count 'em the day they sign up, not after a month or two when most of the novices (there aren't many crew or rowing programs in high schools) drop out. There was no nationwide cry for rowing by female athletes. Lacrosse, also a big new women's sport, not because women are that interested in it, but because you can report a squad of 40 easily. Women who want to play sports that have smaller squads have been rebuffed. See Mansourian v. UC Davis, a female wrestler who was denied the opportunity to participate, as an example. Mansourian's male coach was fired from UC Davis for supporting her; his case has just been allowed to go to trial.

The real problem is the way college athletic programs have decided to allocate money and participation opportunities. Women's sports haven't caused smaller men's sports to lose spots. It's the insistence that football programs have 85 athletes, although many of those 'athletes' will never set foot on the field as college athletes.

Don't blame women for dumb allocation of athletic dollars. Blame the administrators. Blame football and its bloated squads. Don't blame women, John Tierney.

Mariah Burton Nelson deconstructed this same bogus argument four years ago: And Now They Tell Us Women Don’t Really Like Sports?

And no article on Title IX should ever be written without a big thank you Patsy Mink, foremother behind Title IX (along with Birch Bayh), who fought for equality. Great article by Mechelle Voepel.

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