On Friday James Madison University became the latest Division I school to impose major cuts to its athletic department when it eliminated ten teams consisting of a combined 144 athletes. Seven of these teams were men's teams totaling 102 athletes (archery, indoor & outdoor track, cross country, gymnastics, wrestling, and swimming) and three were women's (archery, fencing, and gymnastics) totaling 42 athletes.
The move brings JMU into compliance with the proportionality prong of Title IX's athletics regulations. But this is different from saying that teams were eliminated for Title IX reasons as headlines like this one suggest. Nothing in Title IX calls for the elimination of teams. To comply with prong one, a school must maintain a percentage of women student athletes that is roughly proportionate to its percentage of women students. Before Friday, JMU had 61% women students and 51% women student athletes. To illustrate the disparity, this means that 4.57% of JMU's men could play a varsity sport (294 athletes out of 6422 male students) and 3.02% of JMU's women could play a varsity sport (306 athletes out of 10,124 female students). After the cuts, the percentage of women student athletes is 61%, the same as its female student population.
But schools don't cut teams because of Title IX. Schools cut teams because they can't afford to support all the ones they have. When cuts are made, Title IX protects the underrepresented sex by ensuring that they only lose teams if the end result is proportionality (as we've explained before). This just protects the side that started with less from losing more.
So why did JMU cut 10 teams? Because it felt a moral imperative to achieve proportionality? (Probably not, though this commentator argues that would have been reason enough). Most likely, it had to make cuts because it could no longer afford to have the seventh-highest number of teams of all the schools in NCAA Division I. What else could explain the urgency* of the decision, not to mention the overkill**?
*JMU's existing distribution of athletic opportunities, though disproportionate, seemed to comply with prong three (satisfying the interests and abilities of the female student body)--at least, no one, to my knowledge anyway, argued that it wasn't.
**By my calculation, and based on roster numbers found on the JMU athletic department website, the school could have eliminated a minimum of 117 varsity athlete positions to achieve proportionality, as compared to the 144 slots it actually cut. The difference is the size of at least two eliminated teams combined.
Last it bears noting that no cuts were made to the largest team on campus. The JMU football team has 90 players, which is reasonable by college standards but is almost double the size of your average NFL team. (And to head off the football-is-revenue argument, here is the link to the Chronicle's gender equity data for JMU, which show that both men's and women's sports earn enough revenue to cover their operating expenses, but when you add in the expense of coaches' salaries, scholarships, and recruiting costs, every team is subsidized. )