Profitability test would threaten women’s athletics

 

Upon reading “The Economics of Athletics” in the March 8 issue of the Minnesota Daily, I realized I made a reflexive and rather naive comment to my daughter, Reagan, this past weekend. When my ninth grader expressed her frustration over the disproportionality in fan attendance and news coverage of the boys’ hockey tournament compared to the girls’ tournament, I capitalized on a teachable moment. I explained to her that as a serious athlete, she is poised to contribute meaningfully to how society regards female athletic competition.

My comment to Reagan was based on my assumption that she and my other daughter will continue to have adequate forums in which they can challenge society’s pervasive, dim view of women’s sports and the concomitant representation of boys’ and men’s sports as being more important and more exciting than girls’ and women’s sports. In my little corner of the female hockey world, the continued existence of competitive women’s college hockey teams is a given. I have long assumed that competitive women’s college hockey will only continue to develop, continue to make strides. Indeed, I have expected women’s hockey to garner increasing financial, societal and cultural support.

Until I read “The Economics of Athletics,” I saw only limitless inroads and ways of gaining support for women’s college hockey and other women’s sports. I previously expected a cultural shift to naturally take place as upcoming generations participate at increasingly higher levels of play.

But the subpar status of women’s college athletics will never be fixed if net-loss programs are axed at the apex of their development.

Perhaps I previously saw only what I wanted to see and was blind to reality. Now that I have taken in “The Economics of Athletics,” I admit: The seat of my concern over budget cuts has turned to the potential undoing of female athletic progress.

I see it this way: The University of Minnesota’s role in cultivating societal change in attitudes on sports is massively crucial. The University is the gatekeeper and so access is the discussion point from which budgetary decisions ought to flow. Yes, profitability should inform budgetary decisions, but profitability must not be the guiding force in budgetary decision-making.

Ethically speaking, it can’t be. Using a profitability test for a sports program’s viability disregards a deliberate and educated approach to remedying female athletic underrepresentation — an advancement that is about so much more than achieving a dictated number of participants.

In short: A profitability focus by a new athletic director would fundamentally disrespect societal gains in college sports (especially women’s sports) made by “broad-based advocate Joel Maturi.”

The University needs to continue and add to its cultivation repertoire. I see Maturi at a lot of games for the net-loss sport of college women’s hockey. He shows a true interest in the game, in the players and in the University.

“The Economics of Athletics” does well to highlight the razor-thin edge of progress on which varsity athletics stands. It seems the same people who have historically benefited from a disproportionate support (financial, societal, cultural) of their sports will support whittling athletic budgets down to football, men’s basketball and men’s hockey. They will, that is, if the criteria for remedying budgetary problems focuses on individual sports programs’ profitability. That too few people are being entertained by, and therefore, not creating supposedly “necessary” revenue for individual sports programs is an appalling regressive criterion on which to base budgetary decisions. Trimming net-loss teams would have a reverberating affect on the high school varsity athletic paradigm by making small sports or sports with low attendance seem absolutely dispensable.

As a mother of two developing athletes, that troubles my heart.