Monday, June 28, 2010

Cuts to Men's Teams and the Shark Attack Phenomenon

This article about the Quinnipiac trial contained the following quote from the coach of the former men's track team, which was cut along with volleyball:
The unfortunate reality of Title IX in this day and age is that university’s choose to eliminate men’s programs rather than add women’s programs. From the late 70’s to the mid 90’s, Title IX created tremendous opportunities for women and I am very thankful for that. Ever since the mid 90’s, however, far more men’s programs have been eliminated in the name of Title IX than have been created for women.
Both sides of this claim, that Title IX promotes cuts to men, rather than gains for women, are belied by the most recent government study of college athletic participation trends, which was published in 2007 and relies on data through the 2004-2005 school year. According to this report, both men's and women's sports have seen net gain in the number of teams since the 1990s. Specifically, the number of men's teams in the entire NCAA membership rose from 6710 to 7845 between the 1991-92 school year and the 2004-2005 school year. The number of men's teams also increased from 5820 to 6010 in a 750-school sample of schools that were NCAA members throughout that time period (to account for any changes that might be due to schools joining or dropping out of the NCAA). And the number of women's teams also rose during this time (5941 to 8550), which also undermines the idea that Title IX only promotes cuts to men, rather than gains for women.

Of course, Title IX doesn't say anything about number of teams, just number of participation opportunities. Those are on the rise for men (179,834 to 217,123) as well as women (93,959 to 153,347).

What accounts for quotes like this one, which are repeated all-too-frequently? I think it's the shark-attack phenomenon. Schools' decisions add men's teams (like people swimming safely in shark-free waters) do not attract the same kind of media attention, so when there is a story about cutting teams, it creates the impression that it is a much more dominant trend than it actually is.