Equity? It’s impossible under today’s eyesore

There’s a simple solution to gender inequity in college athletics, but the most educated of experts fail to grasp it.
They talk at tedious length about the “unintended consequences” of Title IX and/or bemoan the bloated budgets of big-time football as the unacknowledged “elephant in the living room.” They twist statistics to suit their transparent agendas and cloak their odious claims of entitlement in euphemistic pap. And still, they miss the obvious.

To establish a level playing field in college sports, you begin by leveling it. Dissolving it. Disbanding it. Otherwise, someone is sure to think themselves terribly mistreated. Worse, you’re going to hear about it.

Yesterday’s San Diego tour stop by the Commission on Opportunity in Athletics was a good argument for putting an end to the entire enterprise of quasi-amateur athletics. The next person to put a microphone before the University of Maryland’s yammering Deborah Yow should be keelhauled. The next person to follow her circuitous oratory will be the first.

Title IX is 30 years old now, but yesterday’s testimony would indicate the argument about it hasn’t been advanced so much as a centimeter.

Feminists still fear efforts to revisit the legislation will result in the rolling back of our cultural clock; that knocking any teeth from Title IX will again consign women’s sports to the narrow niche they once knew; that athletic department spending should be proportional between the sexes, irrespective of interest.

Football types still fret that militant feminists are determined to squeeze their sport into irrelevance; that more stringent scholarship or spending limits are simply socialism by another name; that downsizing football amounts to derailing college sports’ revenue engine (even when the cost of maintaining that engine is counterproductive).

Nonrevenue men’s sports, still caught between the law of the land and the realities of the marketplace, continue to complain that their subsidies are shriveling. They find it outrageous that men’s programs of long standing (if fringe interest) are discontinued for the sake of women’s teams plainly established for the purpose of meeting quotas. They act as if varsity status were a permanent right rather than a revocable privilege. They look on the modern age with one foot stuck in the 19th century, one hand clutching a kerosene lamp.

In essence, the problem is that college athletic programs have finite funds and no shortage of constituencies eager to appropriate them. That much isn’t going to change, no matter what the Commission on Opportunity in Athletics recommends. You can’t fix this problem to everyone’s satisfaction. You can’t achieve absolute fairness without abandoning athletics altogether.

With rare exceptions, the only sports programs that generate significant revenue on campus are football and men’s basketball. Yet Title IX makes no distinction between what’s profitable and what’s a money pit, forcing schools to allocate substantial resources to programs with little likelihood of a return on investment.

Imagine a financial services company compelling its clients to spend like amounts on savings bonds and lottery tickets. Such are the strictures America’s athletic directors deal with each day.

“In my experience as an athletic director . . . I cannot think of any issue that has been any more contentious than Title IX,” San Diego State AD Rick Bay testified yesterday. “And yet, I don’t think this has to be the case. I think gender equity can be achieved in a way that is fair to both men and women, if only common sense and compromise become the watchwords of the debate . . . As always, I am better at defining a problem than I am in solving it.”

Since most NCAA schools remain well short of proportional compliance, it is natural to assume relaxing Title IX’s requirements would only exacerbate the existing gender disparity. Since the federal mandate provides no additional funding, achieving compliance often comes at the cost of a men’s program.

Title IX advocates are quick to blame the extravagances of football when men’s minor sports are eliminated. Frankly, with its 85 scholarships (at Division I-A), with coaches who are compensated as if they were Fortune 500 executives, with hotel expenses incurred on the night before home games and with 300-page glossy media guides, college football fairly begs for pruning.

“Endemic waste” was how Smith College economist Andrew Zimbalist described it yesterday.

Coaches claim these expenses are necessary to keep up with the competition, borrowing a page from the Pentagon’s Cold War playbook. Unilateral disarmament, naturally, is viewed as madness.

Andrew College Athletic Recruiting.

Tim Sullivan

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