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Sunday, October 01, 2006

Another One Bites the Dust

A few days ago, James Madison University's AD announced the institution will eliminate ten sports (yes, TEN!) in efforts to come into compliance with Title IX. The usual suspects are frothing at the mouth about this, and the more sedate(d) crowd also chimes in.

JMU could have solved the problem much more easily by dropping football. (Apparently, only Chicago has the institutional self-respect to drop out of big-time ball.)

Now, based on my own previous experiences, I figure an AD is lying any time his lips move. You can see a prime example of this right here in the press release:
"The proportionality requirements of Title IX mandate that collegiate athletics programs mirror each school's undergraduate population in terms of gender."
Where is he misrepresenting the truth? There's no proportionality requirement in Title IX's current interpretation. The AD was not forced to do this, he chose to do it. There are always alternatives, such as to greatly reduce the money spent on football...but an AD would never admit such a choice was even possible.

Some basic background about Title IX is in order. It is fully known as Title IX of the Education Amendments Law of 1972. Enacted on June 23 of that year, it reads "No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance." Originally, it was not written with sports in mind. There was a time in this country where colleges could and did limit the number of women in certain programs or majors, and some flatly refused to take any at all. Hiring of faculty and/or staff was often openly gender-based. (It wasn't until the mid-70s that the New York Times integrated its help-wanted ads.) Title IX made this explicitly illegal.

Sports are now the only places left on college campuses where men and women operate under a separate-but-equal system. There have always been specific instances where an institution could violate the law; for instance, allowing men's basketball to play in a new arena but requiring women to play in an old one, or unequal access to facilities or equipment, and so on. But the idea of the equality of the entire intercollegiate athletic department was never formally codified until the 1990s in a response to Bowling Green State University being sued for non-compliance by the National Women's Law Center. (The NWLC did this with regularity, generally selecting one university per conference on a more or less random basis.) BGSU's general counsel, Nancy Footer, wrote to the Department of Education to get clarification, and the "Footer Letter" put into place the current state of affairs.

Universities must offer relatively equal opportunities for participation. This can be shown in any of three ways; a) the male-to-female ratio of athletes must be similar to the overall ratio of students ("proportionality"), b) the institution must have a "history and continuing practice" of expanding opportunities for female athletes, or c) the interests of female athletes must be accomodated. So while ADs find it easiest to follow the first choice (and talk as if there are no others), the DOE does not force anyone's hand; you've got lots of ways to show compliance. Also, it should be noted that these regulations are an executive branch interpretation of a law enacted by the legislative branch, and as such they do not need an act of Congress to be rewritten.

More important to prospective Division I athletes in this day and age is athletic scholarships. Here, the DOE requires that the number of scholarships awarded to men and women must be proportional to the number of athletes. This is where things get a bit dicier from an AD's perspective, since it begins to affect the only thing they truly care about--money. Wompum. Cabbage. Filthy lucre. By a roundabout way, the ratio of scholarships must be roughly equal to the ratio of the student body.

And over the last few decades, the proportion of women at institutes of higher learning has gradually but consistently grown to the point where they significantly outnumber men. Historically, this was a normal state of affairs until various limits were institutionalized...which were gradually being withdrawn by the time Title IX made them illegal.

So anyway, the situation is that most universities have a Godzilla in their varsity sports: football. To be remain in the NCAA's Division I-A, you must hand out at least 75 scholarships and attract an average attendance of at least 15,000 per home game. Not a problem in the biggest schools (where 61 out of 62 have men's track programs) but it creates a huge imbalance in the universities on the fringes. Even worse, while most of those 62 biggest schools make a healthy profit from football, literally no one else does.

Which brings us back to the original point: only the University of Chicago has both recognized the possibly destructive effects of a big-time football program and had the balls to do something about it. JMU, along with everyone else, would rather decimate the rest of the athletic department.

1 comment:

Evan said...

Great post on the history and politics of this. You should try and get this published as an op-ed somewhere.