Sunday, Apr 22, 2018
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Many miss the point when sports are trimmed

Didn't we all feel bad for the athletes who learned this week that the University of Toledo would tweak its budget and nod to gender equity by squashing the men's swimming and indoor and outdoor track teams?

Ah, but it's a gasping economy, kids. UT's athletic director said department spending must “fall within our budget, and that [along] with the gender-equity study that is ongoing, they both played a part'' in the cuts.

But some thought the AD's tune sounded off key. Freshman swimmer Stephan Connor, a Chicagoan here on partial scholarship, had his own theory. “There's always an alternative to just cutting something like that,'' he told Blade sports writer Steve Junga. “I don't really buy the whole budget decision. I know it's leaning a little more toward Title IX than [the AD] was willing to admit.''

Ah, yes. Title IX. For something so basic, this 1972 federal law - which reasonably enough requires gender equity at schools that accept federal money - sure can get complicated. You might be surprised by the extent of schools' failure to comply. A UT-funded study of its own compliance determined that the university doesn't give female athletes proportional opportunities.

And last summer, the National Women's Law Center singled out UT and 29 other institutions for such inequities. Using 2000-2001 data from UT for the Equity in Athletics Disclosure Act, the NWLC said the average UT female athlete got only about 82 percent of what the average male athlete received - on average, $1,325 less. At UT, the NWLC said, women athletes are “collectively ... shortchanged $155,235 each year.''

Pathetic numbers, especially since we're talking about a 31-year-old law.

But then, it's not unusual for campus muttering wherever men's programs are axed for Title IX compliance (or, in UT's case, to plump the budget and, oh by the way, comply with federal law). As in so many other cases, though, any grousing about the ax-wielding need to be fair to women athletes misses the mark. The real issue almost always comes down to simple allocation of resources, which is to say, universities throw money disproportionately at biggies like football.

OK, look, UT awards 85 scholarships for football - a sport featuring 22 starters. OK, so throw in some placekickers and punters and round up to 30. Add another 30, just so you've got a bench, and STILL you're only at 60. If UT wanted, they could shave 15 football scholarships, easy.

Hey, don't blame women's sports when men's teams get cut.

Then again, soon you might not have to blame anyone; just sit back and wait for the feds to give a Tonya Harding kneecap to Title IX. In February, the federal education department's Commission on Opportunity in Athletics issued recommendations that could dangerously dilute Title IX, including options to grant schools “reasonable variance'' (whatever that may mean), or allow schools “additional ways of demonstrating equity '' (another ill-defined standard).

Since Title IX became law, the number of females playing sports jumped from 294,000 to some 2.7 million.

Won't we all feel bad if their opportunities shrink?

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