Title IX's Pyrrhic Victory

ow the quest for "gender equity" is killing men's athletic programs

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Yet there is ample reason to believe that there is more to gender disparity in college sports than lack of opportunity -- however that term is defined. If Lopiano is right, compliance with Title IX shouldn't be too difficult for schools: All they would have to do is offer the same number of teams for women, and the problem would go away. But this doesn't always work. Schools have indeed built sports opportunities for girls, but boys continue to turn out in greater numbers. Hence, as of 1998-99, there are more male college athletes (211,273 men vs. 148,803 women, according to the NCAA), even though there are more female teams (8,374 women's vs. 8,004 men's). In other words, women have more chances to play sports, but they don't take advantage of them as often. College-level intramural sports, which are purely voluntary, are dominated by men, with nearly eight in 10 athletes being male, according to a 1994 study by consulting firm Pacey Economics.

What might explain those numbers, if not discrimination? "Girls are interested in more things," says Kimberly Schuld, who works on gender equity issues for the Independent Women's Forum, a conservative, D.C.-based organization that is critical of Title IX. "They are more likely than boys to participate in multiple extracurricular activities, not just sports. If we applied a gender quota to other activities, it would destroy opportunities for girls in fields such as journalism, law, and science. Who would stand for that?"

Coaches and other investigators also challenge the idea that discrimination is at the root of numerical disparities. "Interest in sports has gone up tremendously among women," says Janet Sherman, head coach of the women's softball team at California State University at Northridge. "But is it as high as on the men's side? I don't think so."

"There's no question in my mind that women are less interested in playing sports than men," says Lamar Daniel, a former investigator at the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights who conducted the very first Title IX investigation, back in 1978. Daniel went on to conduct over 20 reviews before retiring in 1995 to become a consultant. "But logically, in my experience, you can't prove that," he adds. "It's just not provable." In practice, Daniel says, this means schools must seek proportionality, either by adding women athletes, cutting or capping men's teams, or doing a little of both.

The University of Louisville opted for that last option. In 1997 the school brought in Daniel as a consultant to review its sports program. The new athletic director, Tom Jurich, had been forced to deal with the aftermath of a Title IX investigation at Colorado State, and he knew Louisville was legally vulnerable. At that time, women accounted for 52 percent of its students but only 33 percent of its athletes.

Jurich wanted Louisville to enjoy the safe harbor of proportionality, but he didn't want to have to cut men's teams to get there. He planned to build Louisville's program into compliance. He added three women's teams (softball, rowing, and golf) while cutting one men's team (indoor track). He went into a fund-raising frenzy to reach his goal.

In the early 1990s, Louisville built a new $70 million football stadium and made its first-class training facilities available to all student athletes. In 1998 it refurbished the old football facility to accommodate baseball, women's field hockey, rowing, and men's and women's golf. It spent $13 million building Cardinal Park, which houses a new softball stadium, a track and field stadium, and a soccer field for both men and women. Jurich is currently raising money for a new $18 million swimming facility that he expects to complete in 2002.

The price tag for such efforts is not small: Louisville's sports program costs about $25 million annually. (Since 1983, it has paid for itself through gate receipts, TV contracts, and fund-raising.) But such efforts paid off in terms of proportionality. By fall 1999, Louisville had increased its women's sports participation to 45 percent; there are now a total of 200 female and 245 male athletes. It expects to achieve parity within three years.

Washington State University took a different, though equally successful, route to proportionality. In the early 1990s, the state legislature passed a bill providing tuition waivers for female athletes, which allowed its state-supported colleges and universities to beef up their squads for less direct money. "Washington State is at parity, and the University of Washington is close," says the Independent Women's Forum's Schuld, who points out that this option shifts costs to taxpayers and is unavailable for private schools.

Proportionality can be achieved, as Louisville and Washington State demonstrate. But they are the exception: Most schools can't fund expansions through massive fund-raising campaigns or use state-granted tuition waivers. For the great majority of schools, being safe from a Title IX investigation or private lawsuit means cutting men's programs.

Swimming Upstream

While no one denies that many men's programs have been cut in the pursuit of gender parity, there's disagreement about the overall numbers. On the high end, Leo Kocher, the University of Chicago's wrestling coach, says there have been massive cuts. Analyzing one set of NCAA numbers (the group is notoriously slow to release easy-to-use data related to Title IX issues), Kocher claims that between 1992 and 1997 more than 200 men's teams were cut, a loss of more than 20,000 men's roster spots. Only 5,800 women's spots were added, for a male-pain-to-female-gain ratio of 3.4 to 1. Donna Lopiano disputes Kocher's tally. She points to other NCAA data which show that total men's sports participation in the NCAA has actually increased by more than 13,000 in recent years. The problem with this is that new schools were added to the NCAA over the period, so overall numbers could go up even if many schools were cutting men's teams.

The General Accounting Office took a crack at the issue in 1999. In an attempt to hold the pool of schools constant, it found that from the 1985-86 academic year to the 1996-97 academic year 21,000 male athletic spots disappeared, a 12 percent drop overall. On the female side, 14,500 spots appeared, for a jump of 16 percent.

Regardless of the exact numbers, it's clear that men's programs get dropped on a regular basis. This is especially true for teams that generate little revenue and small crowds. In 1999, for instance, Miami University of Ohio announced it was cutting its wrestling, men's soccer, and men's tennis teams to comply with Title IX. That same year the University of New Mexico shut down wrestling, men's gymnastics, and men's swimming. Brigham Young University axed wrestling and men's gymnastics. In 2000 the University of Miami announced plans to cut its award-winning men's swimming and diving programs as well as men's crew. Wrestling, track, cross-country, swimming, and tennis have been hit particularly hard, each losing more than 20 programs in the past seven years . With the possible exception of basketball, every men's sport is vulnerable.

Even programs that can fund themselves through alumni donations aren't safe. Winning traditions similarly count for little. In 1994 UCLA cut men's swimming and gymnastics, programs that consistently produced Olympic medalists. In exchange, it added women's soccer and water polo.

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