Over on Blue Star Basketball, Wendy Parker wrote an interesting and provocative piece about the numbers game being played with athletic scholarships under the aegis of Title IX (Why it’s time to get beyond Title IX). The gist of the article is that we need to rethink some of the details of how we are doling out the scholarships in an effort to promote fairness.
It’s time to scrap the Title IX sports regulations — now 31 years old, dating back to the AIAW era, reflecting a very different campus environment for female students and athletes when I was in school — and start anew. The first thing to go should be the the noxious proportionality provision that is being used primarily as a bludgeon.
While at times it seems like she’s anti-Title IX, I’m reading more is that she wants a bit more common-sense-fairness to be brought to the table by all sides. I don’t disagree. Back when men’s programs were being cut in the name of proportional fairness, it seemed that some Title IX advocates were swinging the pendulum the wrong way.
I could just rant about this, but I thought it would be cool if we started with some figures. Let’s look at the number of scholarships (more-or-less, the NCAA’s take on some of this is a bit creative) offered for the various sports.
|12.6||Cross-Country/ Track & Field||18|
*Totals from the 2009-10 NCAA® Division I Manual
OK. Now we’re all on the same footing. No assumptions about the numbers. Well…some assumptions about the numbers. Few school have the resources to even think about hosting all of the possible sports, so these numbers represent theoretical maximums. Generally speaking, schools host about eight sports each for men and women. They are also more likely to carry the less-expensive sports (tennis, track, etc.) and less likely to carry esoteric sports (water polo, skiing, fencing, etc.).
I think the thing that will surprise most is how women generally have more scholarships available per equivalent sport than the men do. This is clearly due to the proportionality rule which results in football’s elephant-in-the-room scholarship numbers siphoning away financial awards from most of the other men’s sports.
Let’s look at the numbers another way. Let’s assume a school carries football as one of the men’s teams (and it’s not #1 on the list, btw). If we look at averages and figure that there are seven other men’s sports as well as eight women’s sports, we get something like this:
Men’s sports (7) × Men’s sports average (8.52) = 59.64 ≈ 60
Women’s sports (8) x Women’s sports average (11.85) = 94.8 ≈ 95
That’s a difference of 35 scholarships, on average. So…now when we add in the 63 or 85 football scholarships, you begin to see how football skews the data. The end result being that if you are a men’s sport that doesn’t happen to be football, well…you’re pretty much screwed. Even basketball carries two fewer scholarships for men than women–though some of this can be attributed to the run-for-the-NBA attitude of so many of the potential revenue-makers recruited by the men’s side. Even so, if you consider the number of women’s scholarships vs the men’s–including football–then the women are getting shorted as well.
There’s an expression in the negotiation biz: the fair deal is when you feel a little bit happy and a little bit had. Certainly the women fall into that category at this point. But what about the non-football men? How can things be leveled for them?
Fighting the Dragon
One aspect that has to be guarded against, still, is a laissez-faire attitude about the non-football sports. Some would simply take football out of the equation, and maybe that is the best course, but it can’t be at the expense of the other sports. If the mandate was given that there must be an equal number of men’s and women’s non-football sports, that simply gives athletic departments and administration carte blanche to gut their non-revenue programs. Title IX history has shown many ADs to be all too eager to do just that.
First thing, we have to reduce the number of football scholarships. Having 85 is simply ridiculous (the NFL only carries 53 on its active roster, 45 on game day). Level the field at 63 across the division. Voila, we’ve now freed up 22 scholarships at the larger schools. But that doesn’t really help out the large number of colleges and universities who aren’t at that level.
The thing is, it can’t just be a formula. There are too many variable and special conditions. These sorts of calculations can work for the larger schools, but the smaller ones need more flexibility. Yes, it’s a money thing. Schools shouldn’t be required to go bankrupt for a formula. By the same token, the athletes shouldn’t be sacrificed simply because their sport isn’t something that’s ESPN worthy.
First, since these are supposed to be student athletes, some percentage of the awarded funds should be for actual scholarship per sport/team: GPA, graduation rate, retention-to-graduation rate, etc. This might also require a scale based on difficulty of coursework. (I took a couple of those athlete-targeted courses…they really were a bit of a joke.)
I do think that equivalent sports deserve to have equivalent numbers of scholarships unless there is some clear and obvious reason otherwise (as with the NBA migration in men’s basketball…but the calculation previously mentioned would likely cover that). Because of this, some women’s programs might get cut or have scholarships reduced so that the men’s program can be put on par. That said, I do think there needs to be parity. While exceptions can be made on a case-by-case basis, the practice should be that if there is an equivalent or a paired sport available for one gender, it should be available for the other. E.g.: if you have women’s gymnastics, you should also have men’s gymnastics.
What about the non-equivalent sports? Then you need to start counting the scholarships. E.g. if you have about 12 scholarships available for field hockey (women), then you should also have about 12 scholarships for, say, wrestling (men).
There are going to be disputes. If you don’t use an easy formula whose results are predictable, someone will take umbrage at some of the choices that are made. Some people are going to feel hurt. So, there obviously needs to be some sort of panel given the teeth to make enforceable and speedy decisions.
I wish I could think of a way for influence not to be peddled on such a panel. Sure, there are still people around that have a deep sense of ethics and fair play; people who could take from Peter to give Paula in one instance, but take from Paula to give to Peter in another. Unfortunately, this is America and college sports has big money merchants slinking about. Such a panel could easily be corrupted unless some convoluted system is thought of to mitigate human weakness. And that’s not going to happen.
So… the disputes thing I simply haven’t figured out yet that would work in a non-idealistic real-world scenario. Kudos to anyone who can.
Still, there is a need for, and room for, change in how many involved in college sports use Title IX to justify their preferences. I don’t think the proportionality method currently used is the best we can reasonably come up with. I do think that FBS football needs to take a bit of a hit on this, but they shouldn’t be completely villainized. After all, for the most part it’s football that generating enough interest (if not the revenue) to allow the other sports to survive, if not thrive.
It’s time that we stop penalizing the non-football men’s sports because the participants in big-time-football happen to have Y chromosomes as well. Football isn’t going to be going away. There’s room to try different ways of spreading the wealth, but both the men’s and women’s sides are going to have to be willing to look at the situation in good faith.