At What Price Equality?


Tom Fakehany

While the answer should be obvious, it can be a tricky question if you're an athletic director at an NCAA Division I school. At the time Title IX legislation was passed in 1972, women's sports - if they existed at all - were usually part of a university's physical education or intramural department. But as Title IX has evolved from a non-binding regulation to the mild threat of enforcement to the awarding of monetary damages in legal suits, universities have realized the hard way what the cost of equality really is.

Quite often it has meant cutting men's sports to balance the equations.  Since the 1988 passage of the Civil Rights Restoration Act, numerous schools at the NCAA Division I level have been forced to ax men's sports programs to make ends meet from a financial and legal point of view. Unfortunately, the way a lot of schools are choosing to comply is to start dropping men's programs, That doesn't help anybody. The number of schools offering Division I men's and women's sports programs both grew at 7.4 percent rate between 1986 and 1996 according to the NCAA. That's a slower rate of growth for colleges offering men's programs, which saw a 19.3 percent increase from 1976 to 1986.

Overall, 305 schools fielded men's Division I sports teams in the 1995-96 school year, compared with 303 schools offering women's teams. But only three of 25 men's sports - football, basketball and lacrosse - grew at a rate higher than the decade-long average. And 15 men's sports were offered at fewer schools in 1995-96 than a decade earlier, while only eight of 23 women's sports declined in numbers during the same span. (Source Women In Sports Web Site). I think the opportunities in women's sports have grown by leaps and bounds, but I think the biggest down side is when you have the elimination of men's sports. This was not the intent of the law. But (Title IX) has created some obstacles from a financial and facilities point of view for athletic departments.

In 1993, the University of Illinois, struggling to keep up with Big 10 counterparts in major sports, dropped four sports. The school said the cuts were made because of budget constraints, not for gender equity reasons. But by cutting men's fencing and only the men's portion of the swim program, Illinois' Division of Intercollegiate Athletics came closer to Title IX gender equity requirements. Illinois had faced budget problems in the past - especially in the late 1970s when its woeful football teams drew scant crowds to 66,000-seat Memorial Stadium - but the school hadn't dropped a sport since it axed ice hockey (the sport I coach) in 1946. But when members of the men's swim team sued the school after the 1993 cuts claiming it was taking away the opportunity promised when they signed letters of intent to attend Illinois, they were denied recourse.

Other recent high-profile axing of men's sports include Cal-State Fullerton (football), Long Beach St. (football), Wisconsin (baseball), Pacific (football) and Wichita State (football). These are difficult times, not only for intercollegiate athletics, but for colleges and universities as a whole. There is simply not enough money for us to continue to be all things to all people. This sometimes means programs must be cut, despite their quality and despite the important roles they fulfill. Opponents of cutting men's sports for the sake of equality argue it takes away opportunities from male high school athletes striving for a smaller number of scholarships nationwide. With Title IX, it has to be careful how it is interpreted. There is legitimacy on both sides of the argument. You want to make sure you're providing an opportunity and scholarships where there is an interest and not just putting warm bodies out there for the sake of doing it. I'm in favor of Title IX, but there are problems on both sides of the issue and my e-mail proves it.

The women are justified in their complaints regarding equality, but Title IX won't work for them until, women support women and men support women. Then there is this dating thing where male high school athletes don't date women athletes. Men seem to say that "I am male" therefor I should have what we have always had. Wrong!!! what happened to "a college was for education." Title IX makes it simple. If you don't want equal rights then don't take the money the Federal Goverment gives out. Dru Hancock, assistant commissioner of the Big 12 Conference, doesn't necessarily buy arguments that men's sports are suffering. She played basketball at Ohio State in the mid-1970s before Title IX took hold and remembers holding bake sales to raise money for road trips and new uniforms. "I think that's an unfortunate analysis to make," Hancock said. "The fact of the matter is that the rest of the programs across the board are not in the black. And those men's sports are just going through what women's sports went through from the beginning." Other men's Olympic sports also have taken big hits, especially gymnastics, down 41.3 percent from 46 to 27 schools, fencing (down 38.2 percent from 34 to 21 schools) and water polo (down 28.6 percent from 35 to 25). The question that arises is whether interest in those sports has dropped because fewer schools are offering scholarships or whether the schools have dropped the sports because interest has declined.

Either way, the effects have been felt.  The NCAA and the U.S. Olympic Committee are on the verge of a partnership that would set up a grant program to ensure the future of those sports. The USOC relies heavily on development of athletes at the college level in lower-profile sports such as fencing, wrestling and track and field. Cuts in those sports diminish chances of Americans competing in elite international competitions. But at the same time, women's Olympic sports have generally been offered by more schools in the last decade. And women's athletic mainstays such as golf (up 56.6 percent), softball (up 23 percent) and tennis (up 11 percent) have soared. It's perhaps no coincidence that U.S. women outshined their male counterparts in the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta. Hancock is not a fan of schools adding low-cost sports just for the sake balancing budgets and equality ratios. Women's soccer has been by far the most popular sport added by schools, growing 244 percent between 1986 and 1996. But women's crew was the second-fastest growing sport, realizing 88 percent growth during that time frame. With Title IX, it has to be careful how it is interpreted. There is legitimacy on both sides of the argument. You want to make sure you're providing an opportunity and scholarships where there is an interest and not just putting warm bodies out there for the sake of doing it."