The oldest track & field blog on the internet

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

A Track Team Eliminated

This morning it was announced that the University of Delaware will eliminate its men's track and cross country teams, effective at the end of this school year.  The teams will technically still compete at the club level, but for all practical purposes the teams will no longer exist.  The headlines cited Title IX compliance, but the University's release said it was also partly a financial problem.

My immediate reaction was a rather snarky one, replying via Twitter that I was certain it was a football expenditure problem, not a Title IX problem.  I got a little bit of blowback for that.  I'll have to admit that the words "I don't have an opinion on this topic" will never cross my lips, regardless of what's being discussed.  Sometimes my opinions anger people, although (obviously) I think those people are just wrong.  Sometimes my opinions require further explanation, such as in this case.

I have more experience in these kinds of matters than most people.  My alma mater, Bowling Green, eliminated men's track and field in 2001.  Like Delaware, they said it was both Title IX and finances.  It took a little while, but I eventually learned that almost every statement released by BGSU was a lie.  What I've been able to find out about similar cuts from other universities shows the same basic pattern.

My experience is that athletic cuts almost never really are about Title IX compliance.  Rather, it's a problem of overspending which, for one reason or another, cannot continue.  The overspending is sometimes a chronic problem of the athletic department as a whole which has reached a limit due to its declining financial health.  Quite often, though, it's either because of a huge unanticipated short-term cost, or because of future grand plans which must be financed from somewhere.  And there's only one sport that both costs this much and has this kind of pull: football.

What most people don't realize is that football loses money.  Big money.  Some programs do make money, maybe about half of the 120 FBS teams (and only if you're using the most generous accounting system possible).  But the vast majority of the 126 FCS teams lose money, even the very good ones.  And, contrary to popular belief, a winning football team is often more expensive than a losing one.  Except for the BCS games, teams participating in bowl games lose money on the deal.  And this is not exclusive to the FBS level; Montana's AD reported losing $150,000 per year as a result of qualifying to two consecutive FCS Championship games.

Since ADs don't want to talk about losing money, Title IX is often used as a smokescreen in athletic cuts.  The 1972 law is often described as being about sports, but the original statute made no mention of it.  It merely said that educational programs receiving federal funds cannot discriminate on the basis of sex.  It's fashionable these days among conservatives or even some centrists to say that the law has gone too far.  But it's important to note how much different things were on college campuses before 1972.

Until Title IX was passed, colleges could and did have quotas limiting the number of female admissions.  Some universities refused to admit them at all, as did many individual colleges and/or programs at coed institutions.  This was done openly and without reservation.  A woman getting hired to work at a university, particularly in more prestigious jobs, was even more difficult than getting admitted (and the law's origins lie in that particular problem). 

Imagine this: mothers and daughters taxed, in part to support universities, at the same rate as their husbands and sons, but unable to attend or be hired.  Disregarding any issues of equal protection under the law, Title IX can be justified on a financial basis alone.  I'll be god-damned if my wife is going to pay the same tax rate as her male peers yet be denied the same access to employment and pay.  And all but the most crazed ideologues would similarly be adamant that their hardworking daughter not be denied a spot in a classroom in favor of a lower-achieving male.

Title IX is only a sticking point in sports because it's literally the only place in our educational institutions where we attempt a separate-but-equal system.  And just exactly what that means is difficult, because the original law is only one sentence long.  So the devil is in the details--the regulations made from the law that decide what it means to comply.  Commonly cited is a requirement that men and women participate in roughly equal ratio as their enrollment in the university in question.  It's sort of a requirement, not a hard and fast one, but it's far from the only issue.  Let's just say the situation can be rather complex, and not as simple as often made out to be.

Getting back to the situation at hand, Bowling Green did not have a Title IX problem in 2001, at least according to an article published in the Chronicle of Higher Education in June of 2001.  It was listed as one of 25 institutions that was doing things well in terms of gender equity.  What Bowling Green did have was an expensive football coaches' contract to buy out after he'd been fired, new Division 1-A membership requirements to meet, and plans for new facilities.  In the ten years since BGSU claimed it could not afford track's $200,000 or so per year, the university has spent $46 million on new facilities and upgrades to existing ones. You can find similar stories at Ohio U, Toledo, Fresno State, Ball State, Western Michigan, and just about everywhere else you want to look.

What about Delaware?  Do they really have a Title IX problem?  If we take the AD's word at face value, and some sacrifice must be made, the pain certainly is not being shared equally.  Of UD's 600 or so student-athletes, 105 are on the football roster.  This in the FCS subdivision, where only 63 scholarships are allowed among no more than 85 players, meaning that at least 20 of these players are non-scholarship walk-ons.  The very existence of those 20 walk-ons, most of whom rarely if ever get to play, are causing track and cross country to take the fall.  Whether this is right or wrong is not the issue; the issue is that the Athletic Director is not being fully truthful when he says that some sports have to be cut.  The truth is that he'd rather cut two entire men's sports (and the NCAA Sports Sponsorship and Grant-In-Aid funds that comes with them) than ask the football program to make even a minimum of sacrifice.

Remember what Montana's AD said about the FCS playoffs, and that they lost a significant amount of money by making repeated deep runs in the playoffs?  Delaware made it to the FCS championship game last fall.  You decide if this is a coincidence or not.

When these kinds of cuts are announced, ADs are right in one way when they cite Title IX.  The women's team would be going away if not for Title IX.  And I don't think the women would be eliminated instead of the men, but in addition to the men.

1 comment:

pjm said...

Bang on, sir.