Thanks to Title IX, Separate but Equal Comes to College Athletics

The sports section of today’s New York Times provided a real spit up your coffee moment this morning while I was reading a Bill Pennington piece entitled, “Dropped from Varsity Lineup, but no Longer Grumbling”. I’ll let you read the following passage, but to me, the argument seems to be that for some male athletes, separate but equal is just fine — an argument that America decided it had enough of more than two generations ago:

“When Yale dropped water polo in 1991, I was disappointed and upset like everyone else associated with the program,” said Chip Spear, a former varsity player who volunteers to coach Yale’s club team. “But now, I think the athletes are better off in the club model. Unless you want to be a water polo player in the Olympic Games, a club team epitomizes the athletic experience in a more pure form.”

David Skophammer, a freshman Yale water polo player, had the opportunity to play varsity water polo at N.C.A.A. institutions in his native California last year but instead chose Yale.

“You are compromising a little quality but getting a lot more back from the overall experience,” he said.

When Jim Giunta, the executive director of the National Collegiate Wrestling Association, became involved in the organization in 1997, he did it to give dropped varsity wrestling programs a place to compete until they could be reinstated as varsity teams.

“Everyone was talking about Title IX effects, and I thought those policies might eventually level out,” Giunta said, “so our goal was to posture ourselves as a bunch of schools that were ready to be brought back. But some of us have come to realize that institutions have been using Title IX as a cop-out. The real reason they are cutting sports is to save money.

“So we still encourage teams to be reinstated in the N.C.A.A. if they can, but that’s rare. We’ve moved on and have a strong association of thriving wrestling programs.”

Here are a couple of things to keep in mind when reading arguments like these, which quite frankly, seem to be the ivory tower’s answer to the Stockholm Syndrome:

  • When men who participate in club sports apply for varsity status, they’re more or less actively discouraged. When female athletes apply, it usually triggers a federal investigation. In essence, opportunities for female athletes to compete are always protected, even if little or no interest is demonstrated by the student body. However, a male athlete’s opportunity to compete will always be under threat. In a nation that established the idea of equal protection under the laws, the current reality ought to be considered offensive;
  • Many colleges have policies regarding club teams that only allow students to coach the teams. So, in essence, you have students coaching students. Many of the educational values of sports get lost in this model because of the quality of mentoring from the coach;
  • Many club teams are restricted to practicing only a few days per week because the athletic departments won’t share facilities. This can be a safety issue in sports like wrestling where you have to be in shape or you run a high risk of getting injured;
  • While finances might be a factor that universities consider when they downsize their athletic programs, the current Title IX interpretation clearly determines that mostly men’s teams will get dropped;
  • Lastly, being that over 100 previously discontinued intercollegiate wrestling programs have resurfaced as club programs, isn’t that clear evidence of the overwhelming interest in wrestling? Isn’t Title IX supposed to be all about providing opportunities based on interest?

Consider for a moment if we turned the tables on this story, and proposed that instead of encouraging women to apply for varsity status, they should be happy with club teams and self-financed program budgets that lead to a “pure form,” of the athletic experience?

Something tells me that quota advocates would seek to hang us from the highest tree on campus, and they’d be right to — which is exactly why the ideas posited by this article are so odious.

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