Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Richmond Drops Men's Soccer and Track In Order To Add Men's Lacrosse

The University of Richmond recently announced plans to eliminate men's soccer and track, in order that it may elevate men's lacrosse to varsity status.  This article reports on a "contentious" forum last weekend, at which the University explained the decision and confirmed it as "final." 

While the University of Richmond seems to deserve much of the criticism it has received for this move -- in particularly, the fact that it had earlier announced that men's soccer and track were safe and later reneged on this -- it does appear, at least from the above-mentioned article, that the role Title IX played in the decision has been accurately conveyed.  This is refreshing, as universities frequently use Title IX as a scapegoat to take the blame for unpopular decisions to eliminate teams, even though noting in the law requires it and the agency that enforces Title IX calls it a "disfavored practice."

In Richmond's case, the message seems to be that Title IX requires that the university  maintain equitable number of opportunities for men and women, but that it was Richmond's choice to elevate lacrosse (a sport with some generous donors, apparently) at the expense of other men's sports.   Richmond considered the possibility of adding lacrosse and another women's sports, but ruled this out based not only on financial considerations, but a desire to keep the varsity student-athlete population at its current level -- which, the President noted, is high for schools with student demographics similar to Richmond's.  The President was also open about its decision to elevate lacrosse in the first place, noting that the relatively number of Division I teams who compete in lacrosse gives Richmond a good chance to be a competitive. 

In 2006 James Madison University sacrificed 10 athletic teams in order to devote more resources to football.  It didn't say this, however.  Instead, it said it was eliminating 10 teams in order to comply with Title IX.  This engendered anger, protests, and even litigation -- not directed at the university for playing favorites with one sport at the expense of so many others, but at Title IX, and women's sports.  Say what you want about Richmond -- as I said, it certainly seems to deserve some of the criticism its getting for how it rolled out this decision -- but to the extent it's avoiding the Title IX blame-game and taking responsibility for its own role in deciding what and how many sports to field, this is a refreshing change.