Thirty years after Title IX was passed, the buzz is that however great the law has been for women's sports, it's killing the men's games. A May New York Times headline, for example, blared: "More Men's Teams Benched as Colleges Level the Field."
Today, Title IX is under legal as well as political attack: The National Wrestling Coaches Association (joined by gymnastics and track coaches) alleges in a lawsuit that the Department of Education is discriminating against men in its application of the law. Their beef? While the number of women playing NCAA-sanctioned sports has soared from 30,000 when Title IX became law to more than 150,000 today, colleges have cut hundreds of men's teams, including more than 170 wrestling, 80 tennis and 25 track programs.
In fact, despite Title IX, NCAA colleges spend $31,000 a year on male athletes -- 72% more than the $18,000 they spend on female jocks (and that doesn't count the $2,500 or so spent recruiting an athlete). Unfortunately, throwing all that money around rarely pays off. NCAA data show that fewer than 5% of athletic departments turn a profit, and expenses, according to a 2001 study by The Chronicle of Higher Education, are rising faster than revenues at 46% of D1 schools.
Now add Title IX to the mix. Contrary to popular opinion, schools don't have to enforce strict quotas to meet the law's straightforward requirement that no one be excluded on the basis of sex from participating in educational activities. Colleges can field a percentage of female athletes "substantially proportionate" to the number of women on campus. Or they can show a "history and continuing practice" of expanding opportunities for women. Or they can demonstrate that "the interests and abilities" of female students have been "fully and effectively accommodated."
Most ADs, though, have rushed to option No.1 -- proportionality -- because it's the easiest to defend. If half your students are female and half your athletes are female, you can claim compliance. Plus, it's cheap: In a time of rising deficits, you can always get half your jocks to be female simply by axing men.
Problem is, quotas are moving targets: The proportion of women students in the US is 54% and rising. Bigger problem is, revenue sports rarely feel the blade. Schools across the country have been cutting all sorts of men's programs -- UCLA's swim team, which produced 16 Olympic gold medal winners; Iowa State's national champ gymnastics squad; Providence's 80-year-old baseball team. Meanwhile, the average NCAA football roster has increased over the past 20 years, from 82 to 94 players.
In other words, dozens of colleges are telling men's Olympic-sport athletes that they matter less than making sure third-string tight ends get catered meals and hotel stays before home games, not to mention full scholarships.
Little of this is the fault of Title IX: Only 15 D1 schools spend more on all women's sports combined than on football. Too many ADs hope, foolishly, for a postseason jackpot that will solve their financial problems. Too many others won't stand up to their football coach at budget-setting time. Everyone's betting they can turn themselves into Gonzaga, but what they're doing is taking on Texas-size budgets without any real chance of being Gonzaga, or any hope at all of being Texas.
What the NCAA should do is limit football scholarships to 60 per school, freeing desperately needed cash for other men's teams. And, while we're on the subject, the NCAA should work to change incentives for ADs who balance their books, either by offering aid to schools that preserve programs or by reducing scholarships to those that cut them.
By compelling a fair share of resources for women at a time when belts are tighter, Title IX will force colleges to realize that they can't go on spending endlessly spiraling amounts on football and men's basketball, unless they want to destroy their remaining men's sports. That may be uncomfortable to hear, but it's not unfair.
This article appears in the June 24 issue of ESPN The Magazine.
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