Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Women's Wrestling in Demand at Colleges

Today's New York Times reports on the demand for college wrestling programs for women, driven in part by the inclusion of women's wrestling as an Olympic sport since 2004. The article notes that over 5,000 girls wrestled in high school in the 2006-07 school year, but that only eight colleges offer varsity-level women's wrestling teams, and that three of those eight have started in the last year.

Some of the new programs are being developed by small colleges that see women's wrestling as a way to increase revenue through tuition dollars of student-athletes who would probably have chosen a different college but for the existence of a wrestling program. The article then speculates as to why women's wrestling has not gained more traction with larger colleges. One thought: (you guessed it!) Title IX. Mike Moyer, executive director of the National Wrestling Coaches Association and a "critic of Title IX," asserts that colleges have limited resources, and because wrestling is a sport with a team roster of only 20-30 students, if a college is trying to increase the participation numbers of women to comply with the proportionality prong of Title IX, it would likely choose to support a sport like rowing, which can carry a roster of up to 60 people.

Terry Steiner, USA Wrestling’s women’s national coach, and Michael Burch, an assistant men’s wrestling coach at Brown, offer a different explanation: colleges not feeling entirely comfortable with having women play such a high-contact, injury-prone sport. Burch notes, “In general, there’s this resistance to the personification of women as aggressive....We’re O.K. with women who can work hard and hustle out on the field.” Wrestling, he adds, is “another step in the evolution of egalitarian thinking.”