Entitled and empowered
It is something, frankly, that most of us under the age of 30 have always taken for granted: girls playing sports. It does not sound like too crazy a concept. The WNBA season has just started, the Women's World Cup team of 2000 was extremely popular, and Tennessee and Connecticut have built basketball dynasties. The reason all of this is possible, Title IX, marks its 30th anniversary this weekend. Title IX is the Department of Education law that was passed in 1972 that banned sex discrimination in schools. It began aimed mostly at medical schools and law schools, but its biggest impact has been on athletics, and more specifically women's sports. Basically, if a school does not comply with Title IX, they run the risk of losing federal funds. There are three ways to comply: 1) Demonstrate that the percentage of female athletes is nearly the same as the percentage of female undergraduate students, 2) Show that there are steadily increasing opportunities for women, or 3) Prove they are meeting the athletic interests and abilities of its female students.
The 30th anniversary of Title IX has also brought out the rankings for various schools, including our local university, the University of Kentucky and our chief rivals, the University of Louisville and Indiana University. Good news Cat fans, once again we beat U of L and IU. UK's average ranking out of 115 schools is 65.8, IU is next at 71.5 and U of L brings up the rear at 75.8. The lowlights for UK are that it ranked 111 out of 115 in the portion of its athletic budget that goes toward women's sports and the fact that only 34% of its athletes are female, while 53% of its undergrads are female. The highlights are that UK commits 42% of its athletic scholarships to females, which is more than the 34% of its athletes that are female, and they have been attempting to comply with Title IX without cutting a number of men's sports. Since the proportionality criteria is the most specific one, a large number of schools attempt to comply by cutting men's sports and adding women's sports, which UK could have done, but to their credit, did not. This practice, which is the easiest road, is not the best road, and seems to be the work of lazy athletic departments that are unwilling to commit the time, energy, and money that are needed to have a healthy and balanced athletic department. The reality is, most athletic departments are scared to admit the real reason that they are not in compliance, college football. The average Division I-A football team has 85 scholarships and a roster of 105-110 players. A lot of advocates try to argue that football should not be included in the Title IX equation, but that defeats the whole purpose and once again raises the problem of big-time college football being an entity of itself and not part of the actual college. There is a myth that football is the big money maker, but the fact is that over half of the I-A football teams do not make a profit. The Bowl Championship Series, a huge mess in its own right, also affects Title IX compliance, since schools outside of the BCS are finding it extremely difficult to comply and remain competitive with the BCS schools. The time has come for someone to step forward and point out the emperor has no clothes.
UK President Lee Todd has shown the desire to rein in the athletic department and make it more a part of the University. It can be assumed that our future athletic director, whomever he or she may be, is going to share in this belief. I think if they really wanted to make a difference, President Todd and A.D. X, for lack of a better name, should lead the charge to alter the landscape of college football for the benefit of the school and the students. If every Division I-A school cut football scholarships from 85 to 80 and capped the number of players on the squad at 100, the amount of money saved would not only go toward helping to fund women's sports, but to also save lower tier men's sports from being cut. UK could, potentially, use the extra money to increase the travel, recruitment, and salary budget of its women's sports to attract a larger number of athletes. This would help UK in two of its weak points, percentage of budget toward women's sports and percentage of undergrad women playing sports.
There are two main arguments against cutting football scholarships. The first one, as espoused by Oklahoma Coach Bob Stoops on ESPN, is that the quality of play would greatly diminish and they would lose viewers and fans. Although I doubt the play would diminish that much, if every school participated, I believe it would only make college football more competitive. This argument has been thrown out there every time cuts in roster size or scholarships have been made, and it does not seem to hold much water. The other argument, as made by former UK Football Coach Bill Curry on ESPN.com, is that it is a player safety issue. Presumably, if there are less players, the chances of injury increase. Players may be forced to practice or play with injuries that require they be sidelined. If this is true, why does the NCAA use the cutting of scholarships as part of probation? UK will only have 80 scholarships due to their probation and other schools on probation have also faced cuts of this sort. Is the NCAA purposely increasing the chance of death or injury for the players at these schools? If someone was hurt on one of these teams, could they sue the NCAA for purposely decreasing their safety? I doubt they would. The only other argument would be money, and as we said before, over 50% of I-A football teams do not make a profit.
The struggle to comply with Title IX is not going to disappear and football has become the elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about. If a large number of college presidents and athletic directors really wanted to make a difference, and help out every student athlete at their school, the arms race in college football would be halted. This stance would be extremely unpopular in the short term, but in 20 years could make a huge difference. UK's membership in the SEC, and by that also the BCS, means any statement it makes on this subject would carry a lot of weight. If President Todd wants to leave a true legacy, and a brave new athletic director is ready to make their mark, when we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Title IX, UK could be in the top ten.
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