The exploits of the University’s women’s athletics teams over the past year have caused quite a sensation across the campus and the state. The women’s volleyball team regularly packed the Sports Pavilion on their march to the Big Ten title last fall and the running-and-gunning women’s basketball team has attracted hordes of fans since their emergence as a Big Ten power last year. Just last week a crowd of 13,117 packed Williams Arena – a record for a women’s game in Williams Arena – and witnessed the women’s basketball team’s victory over powerhouse Purdue.
Members and fans of these teams can point to Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 as the catalyst for the emergence of women’s athletics as a vibrant and strong institution at this University and at other college campuses nationwide. Title IX, among other things, requires colleges that receive federal funds to give women an equal opportunity to play sports. Further, Title IX stipulates colleges need to treat men and women equally when it comes to athletics scholarships.
In terms of encouraging women to participate in intercollegiate athletics, Title IX is an unqualified success. Between 1972 and 2000, the number of women participating in intercollegiate athletics has increased 400 percent. Similarly, budgets for women’s teams since 1972 have skyrocketed. At the University, 399 women – approximately 50 percent of all University athletes – participated in intercollegiate athletics in 2002, an all-time high.
Despite its overall success in increasing female participation rates in college athletics, disenchantment with Title IX is growing across the country. In order to comply with Title IX, most colleges have attempted to meet the “proportionality criterion”: the proportion of male to female athletes at a college must reflect the college’s male to female enrollment ratio. Many college athletics departments have resorted to cutting nonrevenue-producing men’s teams in an attempt to meet the proportionality criterion, such as baseball, swimming and wrestling. This practice of cutting men’s teams to meet the proportionality requirement has led many Title IX critics to claim the mandate as implemented is discriminatory and unconstitutional.
However, several points of data dispute the claim that Title IX has led to the cutting of many men’s teams and placed restrictions on men’s athletic budgets. First, since Title IX’s passage in 1972, male participation in intercollegiate athletics has risen 23 percent. Second, aggregate spending on men’s athletics by Division I colleges has increased 38 percent since 1997. Finally, as Donna Lopiano – the director of the Women’s Sports Foundation – points out, most men’s teams were dropped in the mid-1980s when, due to legal issues, Title IX was not being enforced by the federal government. That men’s teams continue to be dropped in an era of rapidly increasing athletic department budgets for men’s sports suggests that spending priorities, not equal access issues, are largely responsible for the slashing of nonrevenue-producing men’s teams. It is becoming increasingly clear that the growing budget requirements of football and men’s basketball teams are the main culprits in the demise of nonrevenue-producing men’s teams.
For example, 91 of 115 colleges with Division I football teams spend more money on football than all their women’s sports teams combined. If a small portion of money earmarked for football was given to women’s athletics, many colleges could meet the proportionality test by adding women’s athletics scholarships and teams instead of meeting the test by sacrificing nonrevenue-producing men’s sports such as wrestling and baseball. As John R. Thelin, a professor at the University of Kentucky, said, “we still operate in an intercollegiate-athletics arena in which resources dedicated to football can include expensive policies that often leave men and women in other sports bickering among themselves.”
While dropping men’s athletics teams is not the best or most equitable way to comply with Title IX, the coaches and supporters of nonrevenue-producing men’s teams need to stop blaming “feminists” for the slashing of men’s teams. Instead, Title IX critics need to focus on bringing some balance to athletics department spending; if athletics departments across the country diverted some money from their football and men’s basketball programs to other, nonrevenue-producing men’s and women’s teams, men’s and women’s programs could prosper together.