Thursday, December 14, 2006

The Benefits of Benefactors reports that Bucknell's wrestling team is having a terrific year considering their roster is made up entirely of freshmen. Why? Because Bucknell only this year brought back wrestling to varsity status after making it a club sport in 2002 because of the need to make their athletic opportunities more proportional.
One rarely hears of a sport being brought back (without legal intervention). In fact I have never heard of it. So what happened? Was there a significant drop in the number of women in the undergraduate population? Did the athletic department add too many women's opportunities and have to compensate by bringing back wrestling?
Nope--an alum of the school and the wrestling team came through with some big dollars (around 5 million) and created an endowment to reinstate and keep wrestling at Bucknell alive. (It's quite an incentive to encourage academic excellence among student-athletes too. This guy isn't a professional athlete--he's a businessman. I guess we don't know how much he "earned" himself versus how much was inherited.)
Though ESPN did a decent job describing Title IX mandates, they too fell into the habit of making wrestling some kind of Title IX martyr. This was enforced by a quote from a Bucknell wrestler:
"Just from what I've seen and what I know, wrestling seems to be the biggest target when it comes to Title IX," said Bucknell 197-pounder Eric Lapotsky.
If you're a wrestler what you see and what you know if probably pretty biased toward a Title-IX-hurts-wrestling viewpoint. But, as Ebuz reported here in her review of Andrew Zimbalist's book, wrestling numbers actually dropped off in the 80s and early 90s when Title IX was rarely, if at all, enforced.
What remains a little unclear is how all the numbers work out. Re-instating the wrestling team, even if the money is there, does not solve the problem of opportunities--measured in actual spots on teams--not dollars.
The article makes the donor appear to be so magnanimous as to designate part of his donation to women's sports. But my guess is that when the author writes that "[p]art of the gift established a component of the women's rowing team..." that what that really means is that the money went to increasing the number of women on the crew team by, hmm...maybe ten (the number of men on the wrestling team). Increasing the number of spots on an existing team is much cheaper than establishing a new team that needs coaches, trainers, equipment, recruiting dollars, etc.
The whole thing is an interesting "solution" but of course not widely applicable unless all schools in Title IX trouble have wealthy donors willing to endow a threatened men's team and give money to the women's athletic program.

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