The Title IX Headlock at Arizona State

By now, much of the college sports community has heard the news out of Arizona State University, where three men’s athletic programs — swimming, wrestling and tennis — were eliminated in a midnight massacre where the school’s administration couldn’t even be bothered to notify the students and coaching staff in person.

It’s just business as usual when it comes to the university crowd, but this time, somebody else has noticed. On Sunday, the Arizona Republic wrote the following editorial with the headline, Title IX’s Headlock.

Simply put, it frames the current issues concerning Title IX reform better than any I’ve read in the MSM in a very long time:

Today, it is also the great, big elephant in the middle of Arizona State University’s athletic department – the elephant that is as much responsible as the university’s current budget crunch for the axing of three ASU men’s sports.

Yes, the decision to eliminate men’s wrestling, swimming and tennis is a reflection of the state’s free-falling revenues. Facing a $3.4 million deficit, eliminating the three programs will save ASU $350,000.

Budget cuts, of course, are necessary for all enterprises that must meet a bottom line, and the programs headed by Lisa Love, the ASU athletic director, are no different.

But the choices that left ASU with eight men’s programs and 12 for women were forced on the university as much by federal requirements regarding proportional resource allocation for men and women – Title IX, in other words – as by the need to cut spending. Given the extraordinary impact – both good and bad, by the way – that Title IX has had on college sports, it is irresponsible to pretend that elephant isn’t there.

In 1979, the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights interpreted the 1972 law to require “proportionality” between men and women athletes in U.S. colleges and high schools.

Effectively, that requirement has evolved into a de facto quota system in which women’s programs have been expanded and created to proportionally equate to the number of women on a school’s campus. Faced with that strictly enforced mandate, schools have faced three choices: Expand opportunities for women, reduce athletic opportunities for men or attempt both.

In flush times, schools have found ways to strike a balance. Women’s team sports such as basketball, softball, soccer and rowing have blossomed around the country. We no longer live in an age in which women were relegated to being cheerleaders for the men. For women, Title IX has worked to splendid effect. And, historically, ASU’s record at striking a fair balance has been laudatory.

Generally, though, the interpretation of Title IX has not been great for male athletes, especially when budget woes put a ceiling on athletics overall.

In 1987, ASU’s wrestling team won the NCAA title. On Tuesday, it joined the hundreds of college wrestling programs that have been eliminated since 1979 as school officials strive to meet Title IX requirements or face losing federal funding.

As the proportion of women on college campuses continues to increase relative to men, the predicament of athletic directors such as ASU’s Love becomes ever more impossible, thanks to the harshly simplistic application of Title IX since 1979.

Yes, the loss of three men’s sports is about resources. But it also is about an interpretation of a law that demonstrates indifference to the fate of one sector of humanity while seeking to improve the lot of another.

The always excellent Texas Swimming is on the case as well. This story is not going away my friends. More later.

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