More 40th Anniversary Reflections

On, opinion contributor Mike Harrigan recognizes broad cultural shifts that have increased female participation in athletics and calls for common sense changes to Title IX.

On proportionality, he writes:

Today’s problems with Title IX come from the way that colleges and universities use the so-called “three-prong” approach to implement the act. The rules allow a school to be in compliance if it (a) has sports opportunities consistent with its proportionate enrollment by sex; (b) meets the participation interests of the underrepresented sex; or (c) has made progress toward achieving equal opportunity. Though any of those criteria is acceptable, most colleges choose proportionality because of its ease of measurement and use by judges and the federal government. But proportionality has unintended consequences.Colleges should stop using the proportionate rule. Get rid of it and the unnatural team patterns will end.

Since 1982, when the NCAA began its involvement with women’s sports, many schools have dropped programs for men and added ones for women to reach that proportional goal. NCAA Division I men’s wrestling has dropped from 146 to 80 teams in the last 30 years; men’s swimming from 181 to 136; and men’s gymnastics from 59 to 16. Some proportionality advocates note that the number of men’s opportunities has increased since 1982, but that ignores the fact that there are 50 percent more NCAA member schools today.

Institutions often have added women’s sports to meet the proportionality goal, not actual demand. To balance the large numbers of men in football programs, many NCAA Division I schools have added women’s rowing, with its sizable rosters, for example. Yet there has been little increase in participation in rowing by girls in high schools or clubs to justify that increase.

The bigger problem is that collegiate sports should respond to the interests of current students, not fund-raising drives from alumni and attempts to comply with the proportionality rule. The monetary demands of big-time football and basketball too often drive campus athletic offerings and drain funds for men’s sports. Why do all 14 colleges of the Southeastern Conference (SEC) have women’s soccer, but only two have men’s soccer? Why do all but one of the SEC and Big 10 schools offer women’s volleyball, while only two have men’s volleyball? It’s the big-time budgets that are driving those decisions.

Colleges should stop using the proportionate rule. Get rid of it and the unnatural team patterns will end. Base campus sports programs for both sexes on real supply and demand for each sport. Rein in excessive spending on football and basketball. Treat sports in which both men and women participate on an equivalent basis. Finally, let single-sex sports, such as football or field hockey, stand on their own merits with regard to both popularity and budget realities. Do not cut them merely to reach proportionality.

Read the whole article here.


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