(Page 3 of 3)
A related strategy has led colleges to establish largely nonscholarship women's teams that are easy to finance and fill. Some, like crew, yield high roster numbers of 60 or 80 women. In the last three years, 23 women's bowling teams and 40 women's equestrian teams have been created. The N.C.A.A. calls these emerging sports.
Zealous roster management is often blamed for the widespread loss of college wrestling programs, because there are no reciprocal women's wrestling teams to offer statistical balance.
At Marquette, which eliminated wrestling last year, the team was supported entirely by a booster group, outside the university budget. The wrestling boosters offered to raise more money to keep the program. Marquette declined to reinstate it, and supporters of the team quickly joined the national wrestling coaches' suit.
"We completely embrace Title IX; it's just poorly regulated," Mike Moyer, executive director of the wrestling coaches' organization, said. "It's about equal opportunity, but when you cap a roster on the men's side only, aren't you doing the very thing the law says you shouldn't?"
Marilyn McNeil, the athletic director at Monmouth University in West Long Branch, N.J., is chairwoman of the N.C.A.A.'s committee on women's athletics. She endorses the capping of rosters and lays the blame for the loss of some men's sports that don't produce revenue with administrators.
"Schools making cuts are saying that player No. 70 through 100 on the football team is more valuable than the entire wrestling or gymnastics team," McNeil said. "We cannot afford the excess created by players who virtually never get their uniform dirty in a game. And I'd love to see a study on the unbelievable, exorbitant amounts of money big-time sports waste on things that have nothing to do with the student athletes."
McNeil noted that the University of Minnesota announced plans last month to cut three sports, including men's gymnastics, roughly three years after the school was forced to pay $1.5 million in a contract buyout to its former basketball coach, Clem Haskins, after an academic fraud scandal. Minnesota recently announced it was suspending its plans to eliminate teams.
Football and Basketball Reign
Inside the sports complex at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, the gymnasts on Coach Roy Johnson's men's team — conference champions three times since 1999 — still train three hours a day, five days a week, even though their season is over and there will not be another season.
"Our administrators are a bunch of bean counters glued to the roster sheets," Johnson said.
Both the men's and women's gymnastics teams have been dropped by UMass; they are among 7 of 29 sports eliminated this spring in a budget crunch. Men's indoor track, with about 40 athletes, took the biggest hit.
"If allowed, we could have 50 men and 50 women in this gym and it would be awesome," Johnson said. "This isn't about Title IX; the battle of the sexes is over. Now it's about participation versus greed. It's about whether we're giving kids the opportunity to exercise and try to participate in an intercollegiate sport, or whether we want our administrators to listen to only their loudest constituents: football and basketball."
Most Title IX discussions usually come back to the major sports, football and basketball, because they are frequently immune to cuts even in tough budget times. Defenders of the sports say that is because they provide a college with invaluable national exposure, contribute to the morale on campus and among alumni, but, most of all, because they raise the revenue that finances the rest of the sports, including women's teams.
But there is major disagreement over how many Division I-A football programs actually make money; the highest figure ever cited is 64 percent. For the 67 members of the six conferences aligned by the Bowl Championship Series — the Atlantic Coast Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pacific-10 and Southeastern — the football profits are significant enough that those institutions almost universally field large, well-financed women's programs.
"I find it interesting that no one ever says the stadium is too full," said Glen Mason, football coach at the University of Minnesota and president of the American Football Coaches Association. "If anyone wants to run a comprehensive athletic department today, they have to have a highly successful football program to pay the bills."
But the gap between the haves and the have-nots in the college football world is growing, even as more institutions rush to chase the football holy grail. Division I-A football programs, like Tulane and Bowling Green's, that are not members of the top conferences tend to have fewer female athletes and are more likely to have recently eliminated men's sports.
For a Division I-AA football team, the chances of making a profit are slimmer still. On average, I-AA football programs lose more than $1 million annually. UMass football lost $2.5 million last year.
"Football is a visible sport and one of the few vehicles capable of bringing 10,000 people to campus," said Bob Marcum, the UMass athletic director. "You have to fund it at a certain level to be competitive."
But could the top N.C.A.A. football programs do with 60 scholarship athletes instead of nearly 100? After all, National Football League teams play with a 53-man roster.
"It could be reduced and not impact the sport," Rick Dickson, the Tulane athletic director, said. "If football went down 10 or 20 scholarships, I'm sure the sport would still prosper. And it would lessen the hardship in other ways."
Such a measure would take N.C.A.A. intervention, and big-time college sports are generally heading in the other direction. The average football roster, across the three divisions of N.C.A.A. play, has jumped to 94 players in 2001 from 81.6 players in 1981.
To the UMass gymnast Brett Nelligan, seated recently amid the pommel horses, rings and balance beams destined for campus storage, such numbers are disquieting.
"I'm a sports management major and I study the N.C.A.A. manual," he said. "It says the association's purpose is to invite a learning experience. How are you going to do that if only two sports matter? We should be providing as many opportunities as possible for everyone."
In 1969, in his first year at Vermont, Coach Ed Kusiak played host to the country's first coed collegiate track meet.
"There were virtually no women's college track programs," Kusiak said. "But there were track clubs that included women, and they came all the way up here from Detroit, Philadelphia, Boston and New York to run."
Some women on the Vermont campus in Burlington ran, too, and soon after Kusiak started taking women with the men's team to meets.
"It was unauthorized," said Kusiak, who will continue to coach the Vermont women's team. "I had no money for it. I used to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches the night before so the girls would have something to eat on the bus. Vermont became known as a place to send your track-running daughter. I can't imagine it would ever have come to something like this, where the men get penalized."
George Deane, a captain of the Vermont men's team, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary, said that he and his teammates think they have a chance to set a record in the 4-x-800-meter relay at the New England championships tomorrow and Saturday..
"A team record would be a nice way to walk off the track," Deane said. "We'll all be there. We'll all walk off together."