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.