Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Western Washington Has Too Many Women's Sports After Cutting Football

In January, Western Washington University announced its decision to cut its NCAA Division II football program to help reduce the athletic department's deficit. While the university's records apparently show the program breaking even in 2008, university officials estimated that $10 to $12 million dollars would be required to sustain the program going forward, and considered such an investment unrealistic in today's economic climate. It was reported Tuesday that efforts to appeal to the state legislature to save Western football have failed.

The article also reports that Western now plans to reduce the size of the women's track and rowing teams in order to restore a proportionate balance of athletic opportunities between the sexes. The loss of 96 football players brings the percentage of athletic opportunities for men to 36%, which is out of proportion with the percentage of men in the student body (44%). Nor can Western rely on the alternative compliance prongs; since men are now the "underrepresented sex," cutting football likely precludes the university from claiming compliance under prong two (history and continuous practice of program expansion for the underrepresented sex) or prong three (full and effective accommodation of the interests and abilities of the underrepresented sex).

The Athletic Director admits, however, that the cuts to rowing and track will actually benefit those teams, which had been stretched to provide a more-than-comfortable number athletic opportunities so that the university could claim compliance via proportionality. This is an interesting point, as it highlights the common and often overlooked tendency by athletic departments to squeeze opportunties of existing women's team, rather than creating new opportunities in new sports, or expanding the capacity of existing teams in a meaningful way. While the appearance of compliance exists, the result is still discriminatory. Here's a metaphor: If a parent buys six toys for her son, and six for her daughter, what should she do for when another daughter comes along? She could buy six more for the new child, or make each of the older children give her two of theirs. Or, a parent could do what Western and other schools have done: make the daughter break each of her six toys in half to give half to the younger sister. Yeah, each kid has 6 toys. Proportionality achieved. But the daughters' toys are clearly inferior to the son's at that point.

Take away some of the son's toys, and you can justify giving the daughters fewer toys too. Only now there is room to make theirs somewhat higher quality. And thus, Western has created a situation where it can claim women benefit from cuts to men's teams. Notice how even when proportionality is being applied in reverse ("forcing" cuts to women's teams, instead of men's) the usual discourse ensues?