Gender Equity in Women's Sports

by
Tom Fakehany
Except for their reproductive organs, I don't know what immutable differences exist between men and women. Perhaps there are some other unchangeable differences; probably there are a number of irrelevant differences. But it is clear that until social expectations for men and women are equal, until we provide equal respect for both sexes, answers to this question will simply reflect our prejudices. One such prejudice is a misperception created by male coaches who are paranoid over the possibility of making budget cuts in college football to fund equal opportunity for women in the sport of volleyball.

The denouncing tongue is pointed at the victims--women in sports who have less than 35% of all athletic participation opportunities, 37% of all scholarship dollars, 28% of sport budgets and 20% of recruiting budgets. If it weren't for women, the football coaches say, we wouldn't need to cut back on football scholarships. If we weaken the revenue of football, which supports all of the men's and women's non-revenue-producing sports, we'll end up with no athletic program.

Let's take a clear and rational look at the facts: Fact: At about 90% of all NCAA member institutions, football does not pay for women's sports or even itself. Fact: Among the supposedly lucrative big-time football programs in Division I-A, 45% are running deficit programs averaging $650,000 losses annually. Fact: 90% of Division I-AA football programs are running deficits averaging $535,000 per year. Fact: 40% of all Division I-A men's basketball programs run annual deficits averaging $250,000 dollars a year. Fact: 75% of all other Division I men's basketball programs run annual deficits of close to $225,000 per year.

There are only fat men eating the chow that could fund additional athletic opportunities for women. Intercollegiate men's football and basketball programs have fallen victim to excess. The "beat thy neighbors" mentality has fueled an expenditure armed conflict between colleges that has resulted in country club locker rooms, indoor football practice facilities (for an outdoor sport that is only allowed to practice from August to December and for two weeks in the spring), expensive videotape production and editing facilities, first class hotel accommodations on the night before home football games, elaborate training tables and team meeting facilities and coaches and athletic directors who spend much of their off-season time playing golf in the very best clubs doing "business" with alumni, at the expense of their athletic budgets.

Our best football and basketball coaches get double or triple the salaries of college presidents and Nobel prize winners and their assistant coaches receive more than a school's very best teachers. Women's Volleyball coaches get volunteer graduate assistants. When the U.S. Congress adopted the Student-Right-To-Know Act, the big-time football and basketball programs were embarressed over having to report graduation rates far below that of other sports and the general student body. Athletic departments began building "academic centers" for student-athletes, which provided free tutors, computer facilities and plush study quarters while the libraries of the general university were cutting back on book acquisitions and basic services.

Athletic directors and college presidents now boast of the very finest academic support programs for our football teams that comprise a small fraction of the general student body. The scream for equal opportunity in women's volleyball and other women's sports has not created a financial catastrophe. Rather, it has been a catalyst that has focused public attention on the financial and other excesses of the athletics establishment. Despite the fact that Title IX of the 1972 Education Amendments Act required that all secondary and post-secondary schools provide equal opportunity athletic programs by 1978, progress to date clearly sends the message that sport participation is more important for our sons than it is for our daughters.

We must begin a considered approach to creating gender equity.
Possibly our agenda should be as follows:
1. Work to maximize fundraising, sponsorship and gate receipt revenues in all sport programs.
2. Reduce administrative and other expenses that do not directly affect the student-athlete.
3. College presidents must sign sports disarmament treaties.
4. Reduce the standard of living of the big-time men's sports when athlete and coach benefits clearly do not affect the student-athlete experience.
5. If we have to cut sport opportunities, establish squad limits.
6. If we have to reduce scholarship budgets, don't reduce the number of athletes we can help or reduce scholarships for athletes who qualify for need-based aid.
Our aspirations for our children are not different based on their gender. Participation opportunities and the value lessons of sport are equally important for both men and women. It is time for higher education to lift its head from the sand and demonstrate its commitment to gender equity in sport. There are solutions to this problem if we are determined to find them.


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