Brian Hamilton: Is Title IX relevant after all these years?
Title IX and I have a few things in common, namely that we both turn 35 years old this year and the purpose of our existence is to make women happy.
OK, so nowhere in the actual 37 words that became the federal law known as Title IX, is there any direct reference to women, or making them happy for that matter.
But rest assured the success of Title IX, and that of Hamilton family household, is always judged by whether women are happy. And on the homefront, where the women outnumber the men 3-1, I’ve learned it’s a wise move to make the happiness of my girls a very high priority.
Even though we were both born in 1972, Title IX and I didn’t actually cross paths until I was in high school. That’s when I learned that my alma mater to be – Ball State University in Muncie, Ind. (Yep, the school that produced David Letterman) – didn’t have a varsity wrestling program.
Being a wrestler – though not one with the skills to compete at the college level – that move made absolutely no sense to me considering the Cardinals were a Division I program. How could they not have a wrestling team?
Title IX, I was told.
When the landmark law was put in action, most colleges and universities decided that it made more financial sense to scrap existing men’s athletic programs than to add enough women’s programs to make things equal. And so with each program cut – 445 wrestling programs since 1972, according to the National Wrestling Coaches Association – we were told Title IX was at fault.
What we weren’t told, at the time, was the almost embarrassing history of women’s athletics in this country prior to the year both Title IX and I were born. I thought they joking when they said women’s basketball used to be played on a court separated into three areas and the women were not allowed to cross out of their assigned area for fear of them breaking a sweat or doing something unlady-like.
But it was true. And so was the need for Title IX.
According to the National Federation of State High School Associations, there were 294,015 women competing in high school athletics in 1971. By 1972-73, the number had grown to 817,073. Such a sharp increase clearly shows the demand was there.
And the fact that by 2000-01, the number had grown to 2.8 million only shows the impact Title IX had on the landscape of women’s athletics.
It doesn’t begin to tell the story of how many more women have benefited from the educational equity Title IX required by simply stating “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any educational program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”
But back in the sports world, many opponents of the law suggest that it’s now men who are being discriminated against, as the scope of men’s athletic programs have diminished around the country.
Yet proponents of Title IX say men’s participation in college athletics have actually increased in recent history and if any programs have been cut, it’s been due to the school’s priorities, such as pumping money into football programs.
Citing a study from the Womens Sports Foundation, men’s participation increased from 232,541 in 2001-02 to 240,773 in 2004-05. The largest portion of that participation increased in football, a sport that is often the cash cow that supports many other college athletic programs.
As football continues to grow in popularity, and more colleges across the country wanting a piece of the action, more money than ever is being spent on the sport out of athletic department coffers. But more money than ever is also being made to support the non-revenue producing sports.
Look no further than that burgeoning national power in Berkeley. Cal’s Bears have recently become Pac-10 contenders each season, but it didn’t come cheap. According to the Office of Postsecondary Education, Cal spent $12.4 million on football between July 1, 2005 and June 30, 2006.
But it also brought in $18.0 million in revenue.
That profit of about $5.6 million actually balances the books for Berkeley’s other sports. Without football money spent and received, Cal brought in about $15.2 million and spent about $20.4 million.
It appears to me, in terms of funding a full athletic program, it makes sense to make such a revenue-producing sport a high priority.
Football also requires a lot of athletes, the most of any sport at most colleges. And that means for each male athlete hitting the field in football, the college must offer a female athlete the opportunity to compete, or at least provide such an opportunity for a percentage of women that matches the percentage of undergraduate females on campus.
That’s one of the three-pronged criteria in determining whether a school is meeting the Title IX requirements. And it’s the primary tool used by the Womens Sports Foundation used in handing out letter grades to schools on their meeting Title IX requirements.
Is it fair to give Cal a “C” largely because it carries 109 athletes on the football team, which skews the participation numbers to an almost 2 to 1 proportion between male and female athletes on campus?
I don’t think so. Not when those 109 athletes are making it possible for the other 596 athletes – both male and female – to compete in college sports at Cal.
Most of the schools earning a failing score were small colleges that have not drawn high participation numbers of women athletes. The schools earning an “A,” on the other hand, included my alma mater of Ball State and Fresno State – both of which are now without wrestling programs.
Title IX proponents are right in saying the law doesn’t require cutting men’s athletic programs, but the high costs of actually adding a sport makes the former a much more realistic response to the law than the latter.
And try telling Wade Sauer, the former Nevada Union wrestler who won a California state championship, that Title IX doesn’t lead to programs being cut. Sauer was on scholarship at Fresno State when the program was dropped. Fortunately, he found a home at Cal-State Fullerton and continues to climb the ranks of college’s elite wrestlers.
But back in Fresno, where the Bulldogs have even found donors willing to cover the $400,000 reportedly saved by the school when it scrapped the team, they’re still without a wrestling team.
And that’s not because of the money the school would have to spend on the sport, but more likely because of the money the school would have to spend on a new women’s sport to the athletic department.
There’s no questioning the need for Title IX in 1972.
But whether it still makes sense – as it stands and as it is being followed – in 2007 is a fair discussion.
Yet then again, 2007 does mark the first time that the woman winning Wimbledon will be awarded the same amount of prize money as the men’s winner. Rest assured, Billie Jean King knows how long that’s been coming.
Maybe Title IX is still relevant after all.
To contact Sports Editor Brian Hamilton, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 477-4240.
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