The 40th anniversary of Title IX has been widely celebrated this week, and rightfully so. But there remains an elephant in the room.
Boys vs. girls. That’s how some still see it, and in my experience there are two groups within this camp: Those who think female athletics are a less worthy form and those whose own sports have been purportedly hurt by gender-equity laws.
To those in Group A, think about this: Do you enjoy high school basketball? If so, your argument doesn’t hold much water. That is, high school basketball is without question incomparable to the NBA or college in terms of skill level. So to be OK with boys basketball but opposed or sarcastically amused by the girls game is hypocritical. (A get asked at least a couple times a year: “Do you LIKE covering women’s basketball?”)
Plus, you’re not seeing the big picture: Regardless of gender, the vast majority of sports is about discipline and teamwork and fitness and fun and life lessons. A relatively small percentage make a living or pay for their schooling.
As for the guys who see Title IX as being damaging to their own athletic interests … that’s more complicated.
Last week, I stumbled upon a fact sheet on the Ultranets that claims some 669 college wrestling programs have been discontinued. It’s unclear how many of those were put down after the inception of Title IX in 1972.
It’s further unclear how much of that is related to Title IX. At least a good chunk - that seems fair, right? Yet probably not all. Finances are a part of it, too. For example, most college football programs are at best - at best - a break-even proposition in terms of revenue. For example, former SDSU athletic director Fred Oien often said that the Jacks would need to average 15,000 fans per home game to have a shot at earning as much as they spend without factoring in the allowed subsidies. (And, yes, public opinion says having football benefits university support in intangible ways via its visibility. It’s just that’s hard to quantify for the sake of this discussion.)
Baseball programs have been on the decline, too. Regionally, USD, Iowa State and Northern Iowa have been cut since 2001.
Interestingly, several of the pioneers of women’s sports in South Dakota went out of their way during the construction of our two-day series to mention that they were bothered by the part that the rise in Title IX has played in the downturn of some men’s programs. Many of those women were raised at a time when they not only had zero options for organized sports, they were mocked and ridiculed for playing pick-up games, for merely being athletic. They don’t lack empathy.
The question going forward: How can America continue to advance the Title IX movement to the point of true equality without taking away opportunities for men, especially at a time where most states are trying to be frugal in publicly funding athletics? I have no idea. None.
Even if, say, a booster group at USD came forward with all the resources necessary to restart the wrestling program, they’d basically have to incorporate enough cash to also add a women’s sport, maybe lacrosse. That doesn’t seem realistic on several levels.
Why even bother to point this out without offering up a solution? To convey that both sides have legitimate interests and concerns, that men and women aren’t so different when it comes to sports. Working together – whatever that means – figures to be the best way to proceed.
Terry Vandrovec also posts regular updates on his Twitter page.