Friday, September 28, 2012

The NCAA Crisis: It's Complicated, and Treat It As Such

Full disclosure: My family's weird. (Shocker, huh?) We talked about Title IX around the dinner table when I was, like, 8. (Who does that?)

My mother grew up at a time when her only "sports" option was cheerleading (and at the time, cheerleading was nothing like it is nowadays). Nevertheless, she learned everything she could about volleyball and basketball so that she could coach young girls who wanted the chance to play. (While she's too humble to claim any part in her athletes' success stories, I'd like to add that a few of her players went on to play Division I basketball.) My father, a rather macho guy who was hesitant to allow his son to be a competitive gymnast, had his own "feminist" streak (if you can call it that). He, for instance, noticed that his area did not have a grade school girls' basketball tournament, so he created one.

But my father, an athletics director, also worked hard to create opportunities for boys, starting, for instance, a men's volleyball team. Furthermore, in my area, a young boy was allowed to compete on the girls' gymnastics team because there weren't any mens' programs in his area. (There were certain stipulations about awards, etc., but he was still on the competitive team.)

I'm not trying to tout the accolades of my parents. Don't get me wrong, I'm proud of them, but what I am trying to say is this: Without question, I grew up with the idea that females should be allowed to play sports. And without question, I grew up with the idea that males should be allowed to play sports. And without question, I grew up with the idea that Title IX is a good law.

Maybe you feel otherwise, but even most Title IX detractors agree with me on one point: Title IX is a good law. Their problem, however, lies in how Title IX is enforced, specifically the three prongs:

  • Substantially proportionate athletic opportunities for male and female athletes;
  • A history and continuing practice of expanding opportunities for the under-represented sex; and 
  • Full and effective accommodation of the interests and abilities of the under-represented sex.

Legal scholars believe that the first prong is the safest way to avoid a lawsuit because it is the most objective way to prove compliance. A university shows its enrollment and then shows its sports rosters. BAM! Compliance!

While the third prong is the most objective, it isn't all that easy. I'll admit that. If a university chooses the proportionality option, they face a problem. College campuses are full of barbarians who throw around pigskin. The average division 1 football team has 109.6 players, so in order to reach, say, a 50/50 proportionality, it would take many women's basketball teams, which average 14.4 athletes on each team.

Or many women's gymnastics teams (17.4).

Or many volleyball teams (15.1).

Or many golf teams (8.5).

Or many squash teams (13.5).

In order to compensate for the ginormous number of barbarians, many colleges have chosen to cut men's sports including gymnastics. Actually, they typically used the verb "forced" when they are making their argument. Regardless, I have three main problems with this argument.

Problem 1: Presupposition

I am not going to argue that Title IX and the first prong never ever played a role in varsity men's gymnastics. (James Madison University, for instance, cited Title IX as the reason for cutting its gym team. Suzanne Yoculan has stated that the University of Georgia's men's program was cut because of Title IX.) What drives me crazy about this argument is its lack of historical grounding. This argument looks back at the past and presumes, "Since 1979, universities have opted for proportionality, and in an attempt to comply with this quota system, universities had to cut programs."

But the thing is... colleges have not always chosen proportionality. Between 1992 and 2002, about 2/3 of universities chose to fully and effectively accomodate the interests and abilities of the underrepresented sex. During that time period, the total number of men's varsity programs dropped from 40 (1992-93) to 23 (2001-02). But was it because of proportionality? Or because of other factors? And to this day, some colleges like Cal and Duke (though gymnastics-less) continue to opt for the third prong.

In order to see if proportionality played a role, one would have to do a case-by-case, university-by-university study of Title IX compliance. If I were getting paid to write this blog, I would sit down and figure this out, but I'm not. So, I'm going to stick with courtroom logic: Is there reasonable doubt that every men's gymnastics program was cut because of proportionality? Methinks... Yes, there is reasonable doubt.

Problem 2: The Exculpation of Athletics Departments

Like I said, I don't have the numbers. But let's imagine that an overwhelming majority, say, 75%, of universities have consistently opted for proportionality since 1979. I still can't understand why people are directing all their rage at Title IX. Why aren't more college sports fans upset with athletics departments? The athletic directors are the ones who have chosen to enforce Title IX by cutting sports.

Could they have managed their rosters? Now, I fully understand that there's a lot of shady business going down when it comes to roster management. There's an excellent New York Times piece on how universities are abusing the system, but one of its shortcomings is its lack of discussion about football rosters. It's only mentioned in the part where Crouthamel, a former Syracuse athletic director, states, "Football is the elephant in the whole thing. That's the monster."

Then, the article skips along onto the next topic. An article in the Chronicle of Education, however, is not quite as nice. Bob Wuoronos, the director fo the Men's Intercollegiate Gymnastics Sports Program, questions the size of football rosters. He asks, "Do we need 110 kids playing football at every major university, even though 60 of them will never see the light of day in four years?"

In other words, could football teams make do with 50 athletes? Heck, what about with the 85 athletes on scholarship? (Or with my proposed 69 slots? Make sure that you read that correctly. I said slots.) If they stuck to those on scholarship, 24 slots just opened up, and that's more than enough for a gymnastics team, which averages 18.6 athletes per team.

Granted, paring down a football roster will only save a limited number of teams, but wouldn't it be better to save a few teams rather than continuously putting some teams on the chopping block? Why aren't more people questioning how colleges have chosen to handle financial constraints and Title IX issues?

Problem 3: A Failure to Probe into the Decisions of the Athletics Departments

Notice that I did not say that no one has. Some journalists have begun to delve into the past in order to see the bigger picture, and their findings, I think, are fascinating.

For instance, Rick Wright  interviewed Randy Davalos, who was the athletic director at the University of New Mexico's when the men's gymnastics program was cut. According to Davalos, the athletics department was struggling financially, and while the program was the gym program was not the most costly, it was axed due to a lack of competition. Few schools in the Mountain West conference, the article states, offered men's gymnastics.

What I love about Davalos's answer is that it pushes us beyond the discussions of money and Title IX, and it points to other factors. Like the fact that varsity sports are supposed to be intercollegiate activities.

Even before Title IX, varsity programs like Florida State's (1961) were being cut. This, unfortunately, sets a precedent.  It might not be a legal precedent, but it is a precedent, nonetheless. It allowed athletics departments to say, "Hmm... The University of XYZ cut gymnastics. Maybe that's a good idea. Maybe we should do that, too. Heck, if they can do it, why can't we?"

And as more and more teams followed suit, it became harder and harder for athletics directors to rationalize the sport's existence. Varsity sports are supposed to compete against other colleges, and a paucity of teams in a division or a region means that teams have to travel farther and farther in order to compete against other teams, which also means expending more money (that they probably don't have).

In other words, it was a domino effect, and as a critical mass built, it became harder and harder to stop the train wreck. What I want to know is why the very first teams cut their men's gymnastics programs. Not because it would explain every subsequent link in the chain reaction, but I'm just downright curious about their motives. Was it because the programs were not producing revenue? Was gymnastics not considered popular? Were the facilities rundown and not worth updating? What was it?

If someone could study this, I'd love you forever and send you a bobble head during the holiday season!

Anyway, I digress. Somehow, colleges have slowed the decimation, and that will be the topic of tomorrow's post (along with a little bit more on the lack of competition).

Until then!

(My Lance! I cannot wait to go back to Perez-Hilton-Photoshopping photos! This blog suddenly got super heady!)

1 comment:

  1. Another factor often considered in the decisions about which sports to cut is the level of local interest in and number "feeder" high school teams in a given sport. Men's gym isn't exactly strong there.

    I would guess the major factor in the loss of men's gymnastics teams is the general lack of interest in men's gymnastics.

    Interstingly, baseball suffered almost no decline after the passage of Title IX, despite it's large rosters and greater operating costs than the other "non revenue" sports.

    On the other hand, women's gymnastics lost a fair number of teams - after the passage of Title IX.

    Title IX probably was a factor in hastening the decline of the more vulnerable men's sports. It's quite possible those sports would have had some losses over time even if Title IX never existed. As women's roles expanded, more women would have become college athletes. As resources cannot expand infinitely, it was inevitable there would be some "losers" and some of those would be male.