Friday, November 16, 2012

Opportunities, interest and what else Title IX covers

Last week I attended the North American Society for the Sociology of Sport and will blog in a few days about the Title IX panel held. But in light of the release of a new study in the field of psychology about female interest in sport, I thought it more important to tie that into the presentation Dr. Ellen Staurowsky made at NASSS about the so-called "loss" of opportunities for men when intercollegiate teams are cut.
In a case study of three institutions that cut teams, Staurowsky analyzed the discourse around the cuts, the ways in which Title IX was (or was not) invoked, and the course the respective athletic departments took after the cuts (i.e. building new facilities, upgrading conferences). For many schools, cutting athletic teams allows for things like new stadiums, new athletic centers, new bells and whistles, embellishments and adornments that make the school appealing to prospective student-athletes who might have gone to the school that already had these things. Better recruitment opportunities, better conference, better contracts and sponsorships, etc. Better treatment for a few select students. (By the way, Title IX mandates equal treatment too, so facility-happy schools must ensure that female student-athletes have access to these facilities or ones of comparable quality.)
So what does this have to do with opportunities and interest?
Well Staurowsky noted that the teams that are cut are not disappearing, they just are no longer intercollegiate teams. They exist in places like recreational and club sports. So men retain their opportunities to play sports--they just are not intercollegiate sports. First, I think this is a major issue that we will see discussed and researched much more. I know Dr. Sarah Fields at Ohio State has done some work on Title IX's applicability to rec sports. Second, the (potential) retort is that rec and club sports are not the same. And that is true; some might argue that they are better--for schools and for student-athletes. Regardless, they are an opportunity to play sports--often at a very competitive level. Look at college rugby which is almost exclusively comprised of club teams. And let's remember that sports allegedly exist in schools because they contribute to the educational mission of the institution. Club and rec and intramural sports, following this philosophy, are just as valuable.
And they fall under the purview of Title IX, too.
So, again, in light of this new study on interest, we must look at where women do and do not receive opportunities and the cultures that provide these opportunities. (There are a number of other factors ignored by the researchers which I will discuss at a later date as well.) If former men's intercollegiate teams are being shuttled to a club sports structure, there is 1) a disproportionate number of them and 2) an established team structure. Women who desire they same thing are more likely to have to start from scratch. They have to go through the process of establishing a team and meeting the requirements and raising the money. Many men's sports already have these structures and even funding (from boosters and alumni) in place. That's not about interest; that's about cultural and structural barriers.