Colleges struggle to balance men’s and women’s sports

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — If you attended college and haven’t received a solicitation to help your school’s athletic department, check the mail.
With money tight, many schools are asking for donations or seeking corporate sponsors to pay for teams so they may equalize athletic opportunities for men and women and avoid sexual discrimination lawsuits.
“The marketing in college athletics at all Division I schools has shown dramatic growth over the last 10 years. They realize they can’t make it on institutional funding alone,” said Michael Cleary, executive director of the Cleveland-based National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics.
The pressure to raise money to pay for sports will only increase now that the U.S. Supreme Court has let stand a 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that found Brown University failed to comply with Title IX. The 1972 law prohibited sexual discrimination at schools that receive federal money.
Although Monday’s action sets no legal precedent for other universities and colleges, the practical effect might be enormous.
When the lawsuit was filed by female athletes in 1992, many in college athletics felt Brown — the first school with a women’s hockey team — had among the nation’s most equitable sports programs.
With Brown’s athletic program now deemed discriminatory, the fear is that almost every other school could be found similarly guilty and be forced to make sweeping changes.
At the heart of the issue is proportionality. Under Title IX, the number of female athletes needs to substantially mirror the number of women in the overall student body, according to the 1st Circuit interpretation.
Brown argued the percentage of female athletes only needed be in line with the number of female students interested and able to participate in a varsity sport. It said it could determine interest levels through student surveys.
The disparity between the number of men and women athletes at most schools is usually created by the football team, which sometimes has more than 100 members — enough participants to field several teams in most others sports.
“Schools that will have an easier time complying with proportionality will be those who either have fewer women (than men) or those who do not have a football team,” said Beverly Ledbetter, Brown’s legal counsel.
George “Buddy” Sasser, athletic director at Coastal Carolina University in Conway, S.C., said he is concerned football programs will be an inviting target at schools that fear a lawsuit over Title IX.
“I am very concerned, having been a football coach 28 years, what’s going to happen to intercollegiate football?” he said.
Kathryn Reith, director of public information for the NCAA, said in the last five years many schools have stepped up solicitations to pay for new or expanded women’s teams so they don’t have to cut men’s squads.
The NCAA runs seminars for its members to let them know about successful campaigns like one at Stanford that tied football stadium improvements to funding for several women’s sports, she said.
“Everyone is looking for ways (to comply with Title IX) without cutting sports,” she said.
Brown’s compliance plan includes adding three women’s varsity sports, two of which will be donor-funded.
Lynette Labinger, the lead attorney for the women who sued Brown, has little compassion for schools that complain about having to make tough choices about which sports to fund, yet have discriminated against women for years.
“Any institution that was holding its breath, thinking there was an opportunity to revisit Title IX through Brown, hopefully will turn back and look at its sports programs and move ahead with changes,” she said.
The Brown lawsuit was filed after the school eliminated funding for two women’s teams, claiming it no longer could afford them. Since then, the school has found ways to fund those teams, add other women’s teams and not cut any men’s teams, Labinger said.
Schools that cut men’s teams without looking for other ways to expand opportunities for women are using Title IX as a scapegoat, she said.
“They don’t have to cut any teams,” she said. “To say, ‘we have no option,’ I have to say that’s a phony response. … It can be done. If people want to be creative and committed to making things work, whether they do it by reallocating, fund-raising drives, they can do it.”