When Northern Iowa athletic director Troy Dannen announced he was cutting the school's baseball team to save money, he didn't sugarcoat his reasoning.
"From a proportionality standpoint, we're really not even close," said Dannen, citing the school's male-to-female athlete ratio. "We weren't going to look at a women's program, we had to look at the men's side of it."
The conundrum plagues nearly every athletic department that is contemplating cutting a team to save money. Although most men's teams tend to bring in more revenue, they're often the first on the chopping block so schools can remain compliant with Title IX laws.
Title IX was written into law on June 23, 1972, as a way to provide equal opportunities for women attending schools that receive federal financial assistance. Although the law originally was meant to provide opportunities in the classroom, Title IX has become synonymous with collegiate athletics as proponents continue to push for gender equity.
Gender equity and complying with Title IX aren't just about the number of sports. They're also about the number of scholarships, and most schools often have a tough time keeping the balance.
But doing so has been even more difficult during the economic downturn. According to Dan Fulks, an accounting professor at Transylvania University in Lexington, Ky., who has been an NCAA consultant for 20 years, the median NCAA Division I men's program accounted for $22.2 million in revenue, while the women's median is $865,000 in the 2007-08 academic year. Of the men's revenue, football and men's basketball account for $19.6 million. For the women, basketball makes up $490,000, or more than half the total revenue.
That's why several coaches of cut men's teams or teams that have been on the chopping block claim that the use of Title IX is becoming an unfair and outdated process.
"Our position is that the gender quota is unconstitutional," said Eric Pearson, chairman of the College Sports Council, a group that has been leading the charge for Title IX reform. "The College Sports Council believes that it's time to revise how Title IX is enforced and basically revisit the regulations. We still think that Title IX has its place. We don't think that anybody should be discriminated on the basis of their gender. And Title IX is important to ensure that female athletes get access to facilities, equal funding and that sort of thing. But the proportionality component of Title IX, the gender quota, is outdated."
But is Title IX really to blame for the phasing-out of nonrevenue men's sports?
According to Fulks, median money spent on football and basketball jumped $1.249 million from 2007 to 2008. Money spent on the rest of men's sports increased $1.155 million. Conversely, money spent on women's sports increased just $557,000.
The numbers wouldn't be so disproportionate if there weren't 492 more women's programs than men's in Division I, according to the latest data available from the NCAA. According to the NCAA Sports Sponsorship and Participation Rate Report, there were 3,347 women's teams during the 2007-08 academic year and 2,855 men's teams. However, both men's and women's sports experienced growth from the 2006-07 season to the 2007-08 season. Men's sports added 23 teams, while women's sports added 42.
The NCAA won't release the 2008-09 numbers until the fall.
Donna Lopiano, president of Sports Management Resources and a strong advocate of gender equality, said Title IX reformists such as the CSC should look at the money being invested into football and men's basketball before pointing fingers at Title IX.
"It's fair to say over the last 10 years, men's minor sports have taken it on the chin because more and more money is going to football and men's basketball," Lopiano said. "Right now in Division I schools, 75 percent, and I think right now that number may be 78 percent, of the men's athletic budget is spent on men's basketball and football. So men's minor sports are getting squeezed out. Nothing is happening in terms of Title IX compliance, so the women aren't getting equal opportunity, either, but they're afraid to cut women's sports because they know they'll get sued."
The CSC, which contends that Title IX is eliminating opportunities for men's sports, released a gender-equity study based on a 2006-2007 NCAA Sports Sponsorship and Participation Rate Report that found that women received 32,656 scholarships while men received 20,206. But those numbers don't consider football in their data and instead compare sports that are available to both men and women.
Lopiano says that leaving football out provides a slanted view of scholarship opportunities. Football takes 85 men's scholarships for each FBS team and 63 scholarships for each FCS team. That's 10,200 scholarships available for 120 FBS schools and 7,749 scholarships available for 123 FCS schools (including five schools that were provisional in 2008).
"None of the data supports the notion that there is reverse discrimination going on," Lopiano said.
Several schools already are under the watchful eye of Title IX proponents.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut filed a suit against Quinnipiac University after it cut its women's volleyball team in the spring. Ball State was under investigation by the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights in June for claims that it wasn't offering equal rights to women. University of California-Davis settled a lawsuit three female athletes brought against it. The school must bring its athletic programs to within a 1.5 percent proportionality rate in the next 10 years.
Although Title IX continues to be one of the more controversial issues in collegiate athletics, especially as programs struggle to grasp budget cuts, the support for the 37-year-old measure remains unwavering. So fierce is the support that the law's 37th anniversary was celebrated at the White House.
"The reason why nobody will touch Title IX is simply because it is not a partisan issue," Lopiano said. "When you look at it by gender, when you look at it by political party, Mom and Dad want their daughters treated as well as their sons. That's it. You're looking at an approval rating for Title IX, even if it means cutting men's sports, that is in the high 70s when you look at the polling data. So there's absolutely no political push at all to tackle Title IX."
Graham Watson is a college sports writer for ESPN.com. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.