The IWF’s own Carrie Lukas has a fine article on our home page congratulating our female atheletes who have shone so far in the Olympics (silver for the U.S. women’s gymnastic team yesterday), but pointing out that the Title IX policies that we have chosen in order to encourage women’s athletics have come at a cost: the cutting of male sports programs in colleges that breed men as well as women who qualify for the gold.
Carrie’s got nothing against female participation in college sports, which she thinks is a good thing. In an article that first appeared in National Review Online she writes:
“These female Olympians deserve to be celebrated: their courage and hard work will inspire many young girls to participate in sports. This decision can have an important impact: female athletes have higher graduation rates, are less likely to have unwanted pregnancies and report higher levels of self-esteem. Sports similarly benefit boys and may play an important role in helping them socialize and form positive relationship with their peers. That’s why girls and boys should both be encouraged to participate in athletic activity at early age.”
Trouble is, says Carrie, that, thanks to the federal law known as Title IX, much of the recent increase in women’s sports on college campuses–which function as farm teams for both Olympians and professional atheletes–has meant the cutting back of men’s sports. Title IX forbids sex discrimination in higher education, in athletic as well as academic programs. That’s all well and good. But the law has been interpreted to require “proportionality”–that is, that schools should spend the proportion of money on female athletics that reflects the proportion of females in their undergraduate student body. Nowadays, as Carrie points out, some 56 percent of U.S. college undergraduates are women. So unless they want to get sued, colleges have to divvy up their sports budget so that 56 percent on average goes to women’s programs.
The truth is, however, that female students just don’t participate in college athletics in the same numbers as their male counterparts. That’s partly because many women prefer individualized athletic activity–aerobics, yoga, solitary swims and runs–to the competitive team sports that come naturally to men. It’s partly because a significant portion of female undergrads are older women returning for their B.A.s who don’t have the time, interest, or energy of 18- to 22-year-olds. This creates a dilemma for colleges:
“To meet this quota, universities can either try to increase female participation or reduce the number of male athletes. Many have struggled to attract greater female participation. When Brown University was sued under Title IX in 1992, there were 85 unfilled spots on female varsity teams. Many universities resort to eliminating male athletic teams, including those that were once the training grounds for Olympic athletes. The University of Miami’s diving program, where gold medal winner Greg Louganis received a diving scholarship, was a casualty of Title IX. Since the last Olympics, more than ninety universities have eliminated track and field for men, and more than twenty have cancelled wrestling.”
And notice that those cuts are always to the sports programs deemed marginal to campus athletic life–unlike football and basketball, diving and wrestling don’t attract big fan dollars or nostalgic alumni contributions–but which are exactly the athletics spotlighted at the Olympics. As a nation, we are systematically choking off our own male athletes’ access to gold medals by our misguided Title IX policies.
For years we at the IWF have urged, not the shelving of Title IX, but a few sensible changes that would get rid of the sex quotas that the law currently implies and establish reasonable guidelines for funding nondiscriminatory college athletic programs. So far, though, we haven’t been able to get past the noise from the radical feministas who scream that any changes to Title IX would send budding Mia Hamms back to their embroidery hoops. As Carrie writes:
“Title IX was supposed to ensure that women have the opportunity to participate in athletics. Instead, by focusing on equality of outcomes, it has made college athletics a zero sum game: women only win if men lose. It’s time for common sense reform to the application of Title IX that allows for greater participation by both men and women in athletics. That way, male and female athletes alike can come out winners.”