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Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Men's sports and Title IX

Universities complying with Title IX by cutting smaller, non-revenue men's sports is not new. In fact, I always have thought of it as a brilliant strategy. The university cuts small men's sports with impunity, able to claim that its hands are tied, that it has to do this to ensure Title IX compliance, and that if anyone is to blame, it is Title IX (this argument undergirds many of the new arguments to "reform" Title IX). The strategy sets small men's sports against women's sports, even though they are similarly situated in all of this. They get forced into a supposed zero-sum game. Meanwhile, schools continues to funnel a disproportionate amount of athletic funds to football and men's basketball (an average of 78 % according to one women's-sports advocate, although I have no way of knowing if that number is accurate).

But the stratgey is back in the public eye again, with the story in Sundays New York Times about the University of Delaware cutting its men's track program in order to ensure future compliance with Title IX, even though there is no present threat or risk of non-compliance or a lawsuit (Delaware is about to add a women's golf team). Instead, several track team members have filed a complaint with the Office for Civil Rights in the Department of Education (headed, by the way, by a former law school classmate), claiming the decision to cut their program was gender-discriminatory. The parties have undertaken informal settlement discussions.

I was cheered to read one comment in The Times story, from a former captain of the Delaware track team, who is quoted as saying "How did we ever get to a place where a program that is supposed to be about creating opportunities for women is now being used in a way to create no opportunities for women and to cut men?" He clearly gets it. When will the rest of college athletics?

Posted by Howard Wasserman on May 4, 2011 at 09:07 AM in Current Affairs, Howard Wasserman, Sports | Permalink


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It's a bad thing not least because of the framing. The popular story is that even though the demand for women's sports is nowhere near as high as for men's, the government - in a misguided, formal equality move - forces universities to defund men's sports. And these small-sport male athletes are the victims of political correctness. Rather than the victims of financial difficulties, or the victims of football, or some such.

Posted by: Kristen | May 4, 2011 1:09:01 PM

But why do you think this is a bad thing? It's really hard to come up with a publicly-minded justification for why schools should have so many inter-collegiate sports teams (as opposed to club teams, for which there is no recruiting, and have tiny budgets). For sports that people watch, like basketball or football, you can make claims about its effect on school spirit or fundraising or something. (Whether its worth the money is another question). But for smaller sports, the justifications are, well? I'm not sure. The problem is really acute for small schools, which end up distorting their admissions process dramatically to accommodate recruiting for secondary sports (See William Bowen's great book, Reclaiming the Game). But it's even true for big schools. Really, why should anyone be concerned if the University of Delaware does not have a track team?

Posted by: ds | May 4, 2011 11:24:23 AM

A fascinating post. I was blinded by my prejudice on this issue, believing that schools sincerely wanted to maintain their men's athletics programs in the sports that didn't produce revenue or attract large audiences. Your post is an epiphany, as I had never considered that they might want to shed themselves of these programs, and Title IX is the perfect excuse to do so.

Posted by: shg | May 4, 2011 10:00:34 AM

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