Friday, October 20, 2006

USOC Weighs in on JMU Decision

The United States Olympic Committee is concerned that colleges are eliminating opportunities for athletes to participate in sports that directly feed the Olympic team. In this context it first bears noting that Title IX has exponentially increased women's participation in numerous sports that participate in the Olympics, and as a result has directly contributed to the U.S. medal count in sports like ice hockey, softball, volleyball and soccer.

That said, the USOC has reason to be concerned. Most recently, all ten teams cut by James Madison University--men's and women's--were Olympic sports. According to this article in the JMU student newspaper, USOC CEO James Scherr noted his concern in a letter to JMU officials:
It is well documented that the spirit of the Title IX law is to ensure opportunities for participation in sport are proportional and fair for men and women. The intent of the law is not to discontinue sport programs for men or to eliminate Olympic sports from a university’s athletic program....

We have seen universities across the nation inappropriately use Title IX as an excuse to justify the elimination of sport programs, and far too often the programs dropped are Olympic sports. [The USOC] welcomes the opportunity to work with you in identifying viable alternatives to keep these intercollegiate sports alive at James Madison University.
According to the article, the University countered that no "viable alternatives" existed because the athletic budget at JMU was maxed out, preventing them from attaining proportionality by adding new opportunities for women. This is likely true, given the high number of teams JMU carried, which was especially high for a school of its size. But this comment does not address whether the University considered cutting other sports than Olympic sports to be a "viable alternative" and if not, why not. The USOC should follow up on this as it continues to advocate on behalf of the sports it represents. In so doing, it should also continue to avoid the argument that Title IX is unfair to men, and should instead focus a discussion on whether decisions to spare net-expensive, popular sports like football and basketball are unfair to less popular, Olympic sports like swimming, archery, and wrestling.

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