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Sunday, May 16, 2010

Time to revisit Title IX?

It is the reason that we are forced to watch the Bowl and the Chick-fil-A Bowl.  No longer can we watch Ohio State versus Indiana on broadcast television or ESPN, we now have to tune into the Big Ten Network.   Admission prices to football and basketball games across the country have gradually increased year after year.  And athletic departments all over are being forced to make the unpopular decision to cut many programs.  Am I talking about the rise in head coaching salaries of major college athletics?  No, I am talking about Title IX, and a solution to an otherwise broken system must be found or more cuts will be on the way.

For those of you not familiar with Title IX, it is the stipulation in college athletics that states that for every men's athletic program a university offers it must also offer a women's athletic program.  Inspired by the equal rights amendment of the US Constitution, it was devised to bring equality to major college athletics.  But has it really accomplished what it has set out to do?  Let's take a look at the facts: in the current state of college athletics, over 65 to 70% of athletic revenue is derived from two sports, football and men's basketball.  That revenue in turn, is in large part used to fund the rest of a given athletic department to help achieve balance per Title IX.   I am not a math major, but I believe that anyone could tell that is far from an equal distribution of funds.  The question then becomes, how do we achieve equality in major college athletics?

The short term answer is to revise the way Title IX operates.  We need to find a way where everyone has an opportunity to play, but not at the cost of one or two sports.  One solution might be two eliminate all but a few varsity sports, such as football, men's and women's basketball, and a second women's sport.  All other sports would then become club sports, with members raising their own money in order to participate.  But that would then bring on another debate as to what sports should remain varsity and which should be club.  Members of the Johns Hopkins lacrosse team, for example, might not be eager to join the ranks of club sport just so they can make room for the soccer team.  Another solution might be to eliminate all nonrevenue sports.  This would also be very controversial, and very unpopular, as it would only leave a few sports within a given athletic department.  A third, and probably most practical solution, is to raise tuition, and use the increase of that tuition money to help cover the costs associated with having multiple sports programs.  Currently, many major college athletic departments operate independently of school operating costs, but why should they?  Are not college athletics in one way or another a part of the educational process, even if they don't take take place in the classroom?

As for a long term answer, I am not sure there is an easy one.  A major overhaul of Title IX is not likely, and coming up with one that is fair to both men's and women's sports is not a simple process.  Proponents of a Title IX overhaul argue that it just isn't fair for one or two sports to have to cover the nut on a year in year out basis.  Opponents of changes to Title IX will always argue that there needs to be equal opportunities for men and women.  Getting both sides to come to a consensus might be harder than a root canal.  But with time I am sure it will happen.

With the budgets of many major university athletic departments today approaching that of many mid-size corporations, it is time for us to consider how to effectively balance those budgets.  While the obvious answer is to cut wasteful spending,  the not so obvious answer would be to reexamine the way Title IX operates altogether.

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