This weekend marks the most famous day in American sports, Super Bowl Sunday. Like millions of others, I’ll be glued to the TV on Sunday evening even though it’s been over ten years since my beloved Denver Broncos have made it to the big game. The lead up to Super Bowl is also pretty intense nowadays, as anyone who has turned into SportsCenter over the past two weeks has surely noticed. It’s basically been a two-week long pre-game show. All of this is to say that I’ve been thinking a lot about football recently. I’ve also been thinking a lot about Title IX. In fact, I’ll be talking about Title IX on John Stossel’s TV show on Fox Business tonight at 9pm EST if you’re inclined to tune in. And those two topics tend to pop up together — mainly along some variant of “football is the problem with Title IX.”

Before we can see how that statement is wrong, let’s take a step back and recap the basics of Title IX enforcement. According to guidelines set forth by the government in 1979 schools can comply with Title IX in three ways: 1) having proportional representation in athletics based on the overall student population (i.e. if 58 percent of the student body is female, then 58 percent of the athletes must also be female), 2) showing historical progress toward that proportional standard (i.e. showing a history of adding sports for women), 3) proving that you’ve met the interest and abilities of the underrepresented sex (interpreted by the courts as women). Only the first option (proportionality) has held up in the courts over the years. This is a shame, as that rigid standard ignores locals factors such as student interest and basically reduces Title IX to a giant gender quota. And, as I’ve highlighted countless times here on Inkwell, the easiest way to meet such a quota is to cut men’s programs rather than add women’s programs.

So, back to football. Female enrollment has been on the rise for some time now. That means that proportionality is increasingly hard for schools to meet. Football is a sport without a female equivalent. It also takes a lot of players to field a football team. This also presents a challenge with proportionality. So, a lot of folks blame football. You hear all sorts of stuff — that everything would be fine if football was excluded from Title IX. That schools don’t care about other men’s teams because they would never cut their football team. It goes on. But such statements entirely miss the point. The football discussion with Title IX is a distraction from the real problem. Football is only a “problem” because the government has developed a ridiculous measure for Title IX compliance. It baffles me why, in light of that reality, people would blame the sport and not the ridiculous measure. Get rid of the proportionality requirement and football doesn’t present a challenge to Title IX compliance.

Critics of football also ignore a lot of other things, including the money the sport brings in, media attention for the school, and support for other athletic programs. Here’s what Kim Schuld and I had to say about football in IWF’s primer on Title IX and athletics:

Proponents of the Title IX status quo would like us to believe that the reason so many schools are dropping non-revenue men’s sports is because the schools want to keep their football teams, and that football eats up too many resources. Additionally, feminists posit the false statistic that fewer than 20% of football teams are profitable, and suggest a radical overhaul of football to be less competitive and more feminine, i.e., less focused on winning and more focused on collaborative play.

The truth is, when the resources are invested to create a competitive program, football helps women. A Social Science Quarterly article by Patrick James Rishe concluded that women’s sports at schools with big football programs fared better than women’s sports at schools with smaller football programs. While Rishe’s research does verify what the quota proponents tell us-expenditures are higher for football players than for any other sport-the research also calculates that where the football expenditures are highest, so, too, are the expenditures on female athletes.

In another study by Donald E. Agthe and R. Bruce Billings for the Journal of Sport Management, the authors concluded that football profits were a significant influence on achieving financial gender equity in athletic departments.

…Football is not the issue causing schools to drop men’s sports. The Title IX gender quota drives schools to drop men’s programs despite the schools’ best efforts and fervent wishes for keeping all teams intact. Even when there is no football team to blame, men still suffer. That is not equal opportunity.

The College Sports Council study shows that even football has seen a decline in the Title IX era. …the percentage of NCAA member schools with football teams has declined since 1980.

The football discussion starts on page 14 of the report, which you can find here (with additional info, references, etc.). In sum, don’t blame football for a poorly designed measure of Title IX compliance. Reform the poorly designed measure of Title IX compliance.