May 9, 2002
Men's Teams Benched as Colleges Level the Field
ver the next few days, the men's track and field teams at Vermont, Tulane and Bowling Green will be running their final races, bringing to an end both their seasons and the history of their programs. Like the men's indoor track team at Massachusetts, the teams will vanish as budget-trimming administrators bend to the pressure of keeping participation levels of male and female athletes nearly equal, as mandated by federal law.
Women's track at each university will continue.
This year, men's track and field, like wrestling and gymnastics before it, has been caught in the vortex of a decades-long trend that has diminished the pool of certain participatory men's collegiate sports.
Since the passage 30 years ago of the law commonly known as Title IX, more than 170 wrestling programs, 80 men's tennis teams, 70 men's gymnastics teams and 45 men's track teams have been eliminated, according to the General Accounting Office.
The effort to achieve athletic equality for women is often perceived as a survival struggle between low-profile men's sports and their women's counterparts. Supporters of Title IX contend, however, that the real struggle is not between men's and women's teams, but between men's sports like wrestling and track and the real powerhouse of collegiate sports, football.
Colleges generally try to comply with Title IX by ensuring that the ratio of male and female athletes is roughly equivalent to the overall proportion of male and female students.
A sport like football, with rosters of as many as 110 players, nearly four times the size of a wrestling team, distorts the ledger on the men's side. Football and, to a lesser extent, men's basketball, have been unscathed in the infighting over Title IX.
They are blossoming with outsized budgets and rosters, huge television and sponsorship contracts, and coaches with million-dollar salaries that dwarf the pay of college presidents. As men's wrestling, gymnastics, track and tennis have begun to disappear, 39 colleges have added football in the past 10 years.
"It's not Title IX's fault, it's chicken college presidents and athletic directors who won't bite the bullet on the irresponsible spending of their football programs," said Donna Lopiano, the executive director of the Women's Sports Foundation and the former women's athletic director at the University of Texas. "Their football programs are better funded than most professional sports. Football is pitting the victims against the victims. Until they wise up, men's minor sports will be crying the blues as football keeps laughing to the bank."
But many coaches in wrestling, gymnastics, track and other endangered men's sports see it quite differently. They say that the application of Title IX, which prohibits sex discrimination in federally financed institutions, is deeply flawed. In their view, Title IX has been transformed into a de facto quota system.
The most recent spate of cuts to men's intercollegiate sports has put the law, known formally as Title IX of the Education Act Amendments of 1972, under intense new scrutiny. The National Wrestling Coaches Association filed a federal suit against the Department of Education last January, contending that the guidelines for compliance with Title IX discriminate against low-profile men's sports. The national coaching associations for gymnastics and track and field have joined the suit.
There is little question that since the passage of Title IX, the number of women in intercollegiate sports has exploded, from about 30,000 to 157,000 over the past three decades. And the number of women's teams in the National Collegiate Athletic Association has mushroomed in the last 20 years, from 4,776 to 8,414 teams, according to the N.C.A.A., which began keeping gender-related records in 1981.
The overall number of men in intercollegiate sports has basically been static for years: 197,446 in 1984 and 206,573 last year.
The infighting over Title IX has led some to wonder whether the fundamental role of college athletic departments is changing. Given the current standing of football and basketball on many campuses, are athletics primarily a marketing and promotional arm of the institution, existing to loosen alumni wallets, generate publicity and boost campus morale? Or are intercollegiate sports an extracurricular activity for the student body? What does it mean that Bowling Green, a state university in Ohio with 15,500 undergraduates, will offer only seven men's sports in the next academic year?
Most of this is lost for the moment on Bethany Brodeur, a 20-year-old sophomore distance runner at the University of Vermont, who like several of her female teammates is attending school on a scholarship.
"I'm here as a woman, thankful to Title IX," Brodeur said, standing alongside her teammates at the Dartmouth College Invitational meet in Hanover, N.H., on April 28. "But that's tough for me to say given the reversal of opportunity for these guys on my team who sometimes run 30 or 40 miles a week more than me. They love running just as much. Where's their opportunity? There's never been a men's and women's team at Vermont; we've always been one. We train together, travel together, compete together. But when we get on that bus for the first meet next year and it's half empty, it's just going to be a sad, quiet ride."
Not a Big Deal at the Time
Bernice Sandler, a part-time lecturer at the University of Maryland who felt she had been unjustly rejected for a full-time position, was the first person who realized, in 1969, that a civil rights executive order issued four years earlier by President Lyndon B. Johnson might have consequences for educational institutions that discriminated against women.
The executive order was intended to govern the bidding for federal contracts, but Sandler reasoned that virtually all schools receive federal money as well, and with a small amount of amending, Johnson's executive order was soon configured to apply to colleges and other schools.
"It really wasn't considered a big deal at the time," Sandler, often called the godmother of Title IX, said in a recent interview. "We didn't really think of it as a sports thing, and the sports people weren't watching and didn't know it covered them. Title IX's passage in 1972 got one or two sentences in the newspaper the next day."
The language of the law is simple: no person should be excluded, on the basis of their sex, from participating in educational programs or activities receiving federal financial assistance.
Not long after, lawyers for the N.C.A.A. informed its members that Title IX applied to opportunities in intercollegiate sports. At the time, according to a General Accounting Office report, 30,000 female undergraduates at American colleges participated in athletics, compared with 248,000 men.
Members of the N.C.A.A. and the powerful American Football Coaches Association sat down with women's advisory groups and government officials to hammer out regulations for enforcing Title IX. Lopiano attended the meetings and remembers proposing that everything in college athletics simply be split 50-50. "The football guys just about fell off their chairs," Lopiano said. "They came back with a proposal that I think was an effort to retain a perpetual advantage."
Three options were devised to enable a college to show that it was in compliance with Title IX. A court case in 1995 established one test, proportionality, as the pivotal standard. The ratio of male and female athletes should be about equal to the ratio of all male and female undergraduates.
It is a simple test at its core. If a school's undergraduate population is 54 percent female — and that is close to the national average this academic year — then 54 percent of the athletes (scholarship and nonscholarship) who participate on intercollegiate teams should be women.
"But in the 1970's, most schools were about 65 percent male," Lopiano said, "and I think the coaches thought it would stay that way, so they would protect their huge football rosters. And I believe they were also convinced no women would come out anyway. We figured that participation was so minuscule then, going from 5 percent to 35 percent was enormous."
Even with Title IX, spending on men's sports at most colleges with big-time Division I-A football teams still outpaces spending on women's athletics by nearly 2 to 1. But swept along by many social factors, the number of women participating in college sports has jumped fivefold over the past three decades. The explosion in high school sports is even more pronounced. When Title IX was approved by Congress, 1 in 27 girls in high school played a sport. By 2000, the ratio was one in three.
Increasing the percentage of female athletes on campuses has involved many passionate skirmishes. It has led sometimes to tortured roster management, with the number of players on some men's teams capped, while some women's rosters doubled in size. And it occasionally produces tangled new guidelines for coaches and the unsettling elimination of some of the country's most prominent men's teams.
In the mid-1990's, U.C.L.A. suddenly did away with its men's swimming team, which had produced 16 Olympic gold medal winners. Iowa State dropped its three-time national champion gymnastics program. Providence College ended an 80-year tradition in baseball. After 91 years of football, Boston University gave up the sport in 1997.
The national gymnastics championships are now not much more than a large invitational, with only 22 colleges still competing in the sport. After Nebraska dropped men's swimming last year, the Big 12 Conference meet involved three teams.
When administrators, especially those at financially strapped state universities, blamed Title IX, either overtly or indirectly, for the elimination of men's teams, proponents of the law said it was being made a scapegoat for a natural evolution, an ebb and flow of popularity, within college sports — or for lazy management. "Shouting `Title IX' was the easy way out," Lopiano said, noting that some men's sports have surged in popularity, like soccer, which has added 143 teams in the past decade.
Nearly three-fourths of American colleges and universities increased female participation rates by simply adding women's sports without dropping men's sports. This has been especially true at smaller and wealthier institutions with large endowments. But even at the vast majority of these colleges, caps on men's team rosters have become the norm. Many men's coaches across the nation have been assigned fixed maximums: about 40 for track, 35 for baseball, 18 for gymnastics.
If a male student who was not recruited to run track decides he wants to try out for the team, he is often turned away. At Brown, it was understood that if a male student wanted to try out for one of the minor sports, he would be allowed to if he could recruit two women who would agreed to go out for a sport, several university officials said.
Bob Rothenberg, who spent 18 years as track coach at Brown, said he routinely discouraged male applicants to the university who inquired if they could come to the track when they arrived on campus.
"If it was a female applicant, we would explain how to find us and the track," Rothenberg said.
That's because most colleges, in the hunt for proportionality, frequently try to maximize their women's rosters. When it comes to track, this is especially true. That is because, according to N.C.A.A. procedures, a female runner who competes on the cross-country and the indoor and outdoor track teams counts for three athletes in the Title IX proportionality ledger.
The procedure may be harming men's track. Bowling Green, for instance, could slice as many as 80 men from its rosters this spring by eliminating indoor and outdoor track. Tulane will do the same to help remedy a significant imbalance in its ratio of male and female athletes. Vermont's ratio was more even, but dropping men's track saves roster spots for its featured men's sports: hockey, skiing, basketball and baseball.
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."