In her NYT article, Katie Thomas calls out colleges for “undermining gender equity.” Schools, such as the University of South Florida, are fudging participation numbers by inventing participants, counting male practice players in female sports as women and counting female track athletes as participants in multiple sports. The article addresses how they are doing this, but the salient question is why?
South Florida is fudging numbers. Is this “fraud” intending to “flout the law and cheat women” or is it an attempt to keep as many sports afloat as possible within a finite budget given unreasonable parameters? Athletics, like any other university activity, are constrained by resources available. Athletes in different sports don’t use an equal amount of resources.
One sport targeted in the article is football. South Florida added a large number of male athletes for football. America’s big bastion of masculinity is portrayed, uncritically, as an “elephant” and a “monster.” The article’s implication is football hogs a vast majority of university attention and resources. That is false.
Major conference football programs made an average $15.8 million profit in 2010. The average women’s basketball team in a major conference loses $2 million per year. The average university makes $186,000 for each of its 85 scholarship football players. The average university loses $159,000 for each of its 13 scholarship women’s basketball players. Which sport uses a disproportionate amount of resources? Schools don’t “cut” football because it would prevent them paying for other sports.
South Florida threw off its proportional representation by adding football. But, adding football moved men’s and women’s sports to Division I and then to major conference play in the Big East. Presumably, the increased exposure of the football and men’s basketball programs will make them profitable as an alumni fan network grows. This will allow them to pay for themselves entirely while subsidizing non-revenue men’s and women’s sports. Should South Florida cease the “fraud” and drop football or add other sports it can’t afford to even the numbers?
It costs South Florida $125,000 total to field 98 scholarship players in men’s football and basketball. That’s how much South Florida spends fielding two of its 13 women’s basketball players. South Florida is committing a grave injustice against women’s sports?
Athletics should resemble every other activity in the university sitting. Computer engineering departments have a disproportionate number of male students, just as art history departments have a disproportionate number of female students. Neither is undermining gender equity. A female student, if she wishes, faces no tangible barrier to studying Computer Engineering.
Title IX was passed in 1972, when many elite universities were just beginning to admit women. The social climate has changed the last 40 years, so has the economic one for universities. The statute should be amended to address the status quo. It should focus, not on theoretical notions of equity and aggregate numbers, but tangible, fair treatment to students. This means ensuring women’s sports flourish and meet demand. It also means budgeting rationally and preserving as many possible opportunities for all students.
University budgets are becoming progressively constrained. With budget cuts they will lose more federal and state funding. Many schools are already placing an undue burden on students to subsidize bloated athletic departments. Continuing the present path may present proportional opportunities for men and women in the future, but there will be far fewer of them.
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