Monday, December 11, 2006

Media misunderstandings and Title IX

I have written about the issue of Title IX's misrepresentation in the media previously--though briefly--here. But I bring it up again now because of a recent little blip in a paper in Arizona about the addition of a women's water polo team at the University of Arizona.
Despite the fairly simple premise of Title IX that calls for equitable treatment of the underrepresented sex in publicly-funded educational institutions, the statute itself, as this blog has hopefully demonstrated, is quite complex.
The complexity that has arisen due to various and changing legal interpretations is further compounded by the multiple components that constitute compliance--and I am speaking only in its application to athletics here--with the law.
Unfortunately many who report on or speak to Title IX issues in the media lack an understanding of this complexity. (Note that I am not citing all journalists. Welch Suggs, when he covered Title IX issues for The Chronicle of Higher Education, did an excellent job covering the mulitfaceted issues the law engendered.)
This lack of understanding around equity, sport, and Title IX is exhibited by Greg Hansen in the above mentioned blip that appears in a sports opinion column in the Arizona Daily Star. UA is adding women's water polo to its roster of intercollegiate sports. I haven't scrutinized UA's numbers regarding opportunity levels but I going to assume that Hansen is right that the university is adding water polo to try to achieve compliance.
But there are a few things wrong with Hansen's assessment of the situation. In comparing how (non)compliant UA is with other Pac-10 teams Hansen lists the number of male athletes and the number of female athletes at the schools. But such numbers are meaningless if we don't know the breakdown of male and female students in the entire undergraduate population. Because Title IX is not about strict equality of numbers but about equity which, if an intitution is trying to achieve proportionality, is about making athletic opportunity numbers more in line with the percentage of male and female undergraduates. If UA has more female undergrads than male, as is the situation in many colleges and universities, even equal numbers of male and female athletes will not result in compliance.
Hansen also seems to cite Title IX as the reason why budget-strapped UA (who isn't budget-strapped these days though??) is adding water polo (whose popularity is pretty much centered in the Pac-10) rather than a revenue-generating sport. Basically he implies that women's water polo will be a drain on the budget and it's all because of "the federal government's gender equity laws."
But a quick look at UA's list of varsity sports shows that all the (potential) revenue-generating sports for women (and men too!) already exist. Women's (Div. I) basketball is pretty much the only sport that can automatically be placed in the revenue-generating column. Depending on the school and the region other sports such as women's volleyball and gymnastics have the potential to be revenue generating. Both of these are already offered by UA, though I don't know if they do indeed generate revenue.
Hansen does not see that sports--especially women's sports--are not inherently revenue generating. Revenue-generating sports are created. Our default is to believe they are created by fan interest which is also believed to be innate when it is, in fact, taught.
Take for example University of Iowa's volleyball team. Though the popularity of women's volleyball is growing it is not necessarily a revenue-generating sport. But Athletic Department administrators at UI want it to become one. So they are making it into one through a variety of methods including hiring an established coach, throwing more money into recruiting and promoting the heck out of it through ticket promotions (your football ticket gets you into that night's v-ball match) and lots of publicity.
UA could turn women's water polo into a revenue-generating sport if it made the effort. But that requires either a bigger budget or shifting money away from men's sports to do so.

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