Coach battles U’s gender policies

Aaron Blake

Minnesota wrestling coach J Robinson is grappling with the University.

To ensure nonrevenue men’s sports receive the financial backing they deserve, he recently filed a complaint with the Department of Human Rights, alleging gender discrimination within the athletics department.

The second part of his complaint alleges University administrators have tried to get him terminated for his often controversial views.

“The University has created a class system based upon gender,” Robinson said. “If you speak against certain things, the University reprises. They come and try and get rid of you.”

The University’s General Counsel Office is drafting its response to Robinson’s complaint and declined to comment on its specifics.

University officials said they plan to issue their response – which will be unavailable to the public – in early March.

“Most of us are pretty happy with the pay we get until we see what someone else gets,” Athletics Director Joel Maturi said. “In this crazy world of big-time college athletics, there seems to be the feeling of some people that somebody is getting paid fairly more or unfairly less than someone else.”

Established in 1972, Title IX requires schools to provide equitable academic or athletics opportunities to both genders.

Robinson cited the athletics department’s three-tiered compensation policy as an example of gender-based inequity within Gophers sports.

The three tiers include the three revenue-producing sports (men’s football, basketball and hockey) in Maroon 1, three women’s sports (basketball, hockey and volleyball) in Maroon 2 and the remainder, including Robinson’s sport, in the Gold classification.

Maroon 2 sports receive more money than Gold sports.

The policy states the tiers were formed “to meet the University’s internal equity goals and the varying tasks, duties and responsibilities of each sport.”

Robinson said the disparities in travel budget, facilities, marketing and promotion, advertising, and benefits among classes are the result of gender-based discrimination.

“How could you put some women’s sports above when they’re a nonrevenue sport?” Robinson said. “What you’ve done is you’ve created a class – Maroon 2 – that none of the other nonrevenue sports can get into. None of the men can get in there.

“It’s as simple as can be. Nobody wants to deal with it though, because it’s not politically correct.”

The numbers game

This academic year, the University estimates the three revenue sports in Maroon 1 will earn $6.3 million in ticket sales, while nonrevenue sports will lose $7 million.

Other revenue sources allow the athletics department to operate in the black, officials said, so the nonrevenue sports do not fiscally drain the department.

In the 2002-03 academic year, the University spent $375,019 on women’s basketball, $145,448 on women’s hockey and $173,264 on volleyball – all Maroon 2 sports – according to the Equity in Athletics Disclosure Act report.

Wrestling received $77,780, compared to other Gold sports, which averaged $111,742 for each of the other 15 sports.

Robinson believes programs such as the women’s hockey team, which formed in 1997, are given larger budgets based on gender to comply with Title IX.

“I fought my whole life against football, basketball and hockey for respect, travel budget, coaches – for everything,” said Robinson, who won national titles with the wrestling team in 2001 and 2002. “Now, all of a sudden, some woman comes and says, ‘I’m going to the front of the line.’ That’s fair?”

Robinson supports a more merit-based funding system in which teams that show results get the backing they deserve.

“We have evolved from a deal of earning things in America to an expectation or an entitlement,” Robinson said. “You’re entitled to get in the game, and that’s it. You’re not entitled to ridiculously spend money because somebody else is spending money. That’s not what the game’s about.”

That kind of merit-based budgeting would not provide young teams with the resources to improve, said Mary Jo Kane, director of the University’s Tucker Center for Research on Girls and Women in Sport.

Universities have a long history of supporting an array of activities, said Kane, who would not comment on Robinson’s complaint.

The perception that men’s athletics are suffering because of Title IX’s application is a fallacy, she said.

“No one believes that the way to increase opportunities for women is to decrease opportunities for the men,” she said. “Before any school drops any men’s sports they should first open up their financial books and show where they have made attempts to cut excessive spending.”

Women speak out

Robinson’s views have drawn ire from many in the women’s athletics community.

Former University Women’s Athletics Director Chris Voelz was quoted in the Star Tribune on Feb. 14 as calling Robinson’s complaint “a frivolous reflection of a Neanderthal perspective.” She also questioned the timing of his complaint – filed the same week the women’s basketball team packed more than 14,000 people into Williams Arena for a Big Ten game.

The Daily could not reach Voelz for comment.

“I think it’s classical that she wants to deflect the whole heat of the discussion into name-calling,” said Robinson, who added that the large turnout has nothing to do with his complaint. “I think it’s pretty petty of her. She still didn’t address the issue of a class system.”

Female athletes also expressed disdain about Robinson’s views this week.

“This Big Ten University has a commitment to Title IX and I want to know why he’s undermining that,” said Caroline Wade, a first-year novice on the rowing team. “We’ve earned the right to play; let’s play fair.”

She and other rowing team members pointed to the progress of their own team and women’s basketball as a direct result of the University’s implementation of Title IX.

“Some men feel they have been cheated by Title IX, but 30 years of making room for women compared to centuries of ignoring women doesn’t sound like a strong argument,” senior rowing member Mariel Gartner said.

Robinson said he is not worried about backlash from female athletes or women in general.

He invited them to come and talk to him about concerns they have with his philosophy.

“People will say we’re making up for past discrimination,” Robinson said. “Fifty years ago, did people really discriminate against women?

“Or do you think maybe there wasn’t a lot of interest there? And as their interests graduated, they got more and more opportunities. But now we’re saying that we’re going to make up for past discrimination by discriminating against other people. Before, it was ignorance. Now, we’re knowingly doing it. That, to me, is worse. And we’re trying to justify it.”

– K.C. Howard and John Vomhof Jr. contributed to this report.