Monday, June 27, 2011

Football Exempt from School District's Decision to Cut Freshman Teams

I'm not sure how this can NOT be a Title IX violation: the Ann Arbor school district is cutting all freshman teams at its three high schools except football. In all other sports, freshman will be able to try out for existing junior varsity and varsity teams, but there will be no teams reserved exclusively for them. Budget cuts explain the district's decision to slash freshman sports. The reason they are saving freshman football is that "safety issues are a major concern" if freshman are allowed to compete on J.V. team. What? Excuse me while I parse this pretext. Even if it were the case the freshmen boys are so distinctly different from sophomore or junior boys in terms of size or skill that it would raise "major safety concerns" to have them play together, why doesn't this difference carry over into other boys and girls contact sports? Why isn't it a major safety concern to have freshmen on the J.V. lacrosse or hockey teams? And finally, if it's a problem to allow freshman boys to compete on the J.V. team because of safety, hold a tryout and only let the kids on the J.V. team who are big enough and skilled enough to hold their own. After all, that's the standard that is being applied to all the other sports. Safety, yeah right. This is clearly a case of football once again getting special treatment at the expense of girls' and other boys' sports.

And, as I said at the outset, I can't see how this isn't a Title IX violation. Even if Ann Arbor high schools were proportionate before, they certainly can't be now that they have eliminated more freshman girls' opportunities than they have freshman boys'. And of course, cutting girls' opportunities makes it difficult to claim compliance under prong two, and the interest and ability is clearly there and now unmet due to the cuts, making it impossible to claim compliance under prong three.

What's more, the article linked above says that several sports are being demoted to "club" status, meaning they receive no school district funding. 7 girls sports will be affected by this new status at one or more of the three schools: lacrosse, bowling, J.V. field hockey, figure skating, cheer, dance, and crew. Only 3 boys sports will be: lacrosse, bowling, and crew. It is highly unlikely -- impossible I think would be fair to say -- that a school district that exempts football from freshmen cuts, and then takes out more girls' teams than boys' sports still manages to provide athletic opportunities proportionate to the gender ratio of the student body.

I don't envy the administrator who is forced to balance the school district budget on the back of student athletes. But as hard as that job is, there is no excuse for ignoring Title IX. These cuts need to be spread out fairly between boys and girls and ensure that even if the pie is getting shrunk, boys' piece and the girls' piece are still the same size.

[Thanks, D.R.]