Saturday, November 17, 2012

"Title IX" Cuts at Towson Reconsidered

Often we read about colleges and universities cutting men's teams, ostensibly to comply with Title IX.  I usually object to this framing, which makes it sounds like the law requires universities to equalize athletic opportunities in this manner and doesn't take into account compliance by other means than statistical proportionality.  But of course, this is a convenient narrative for colleges and universities to employ, as it positions them as innocent victims of the law, rather than free agents making economic and political decisions about how many and which sports to offer.  It's easier to say to disappointed baseball players and wrestlers, "sorry, blame the women," than it is to admit, "sorry, we just value football players' opportunities more than we value opportunities in your sport."  

Because I am sensitive to the "Title IX made me do it" defense to cutting teams, I was interested in this article about the Towson University Athletic Director's proposal to cut baseball and men's soccer.  But when AD Mike Waddell claimed that these cuts were needed for Title IX compliance, that rationale raised questions.  Specifically, the university's Board of Visitors looked into the numbers, the determined that athletic opportunities were actually proportionate to the percentage of students of each sex, so Title IX compliance has already been achieved.  Apparently, Waddell based his proportionality calculation on an unduplicated headcount, which counts the number of student athletes, without taking into account separate athletic opportunities that are enjoyed by multi-sport athletes.  However, as long as athletic opportunities are truly separate, meaningful athletic opportunities in their own right, universities may count them that way for Title IX purposes.  The so-called "duplicated" head count measures opportunities, not participants.  In Towson's case, many female athletes participate in both indoor and outdoor track, so proportionality does not appear satisfied when you use the unduplicated head count, but it does when you use the duplicated one.

In my mind, there are three possible interpretations of this discrepancy.
1. Waddell, despite being an AD at a Division I institution, does not know that it is acceptable to use the duplicated head count.  This is possible, as we frequency encounter gaps in Title IX literacy, even at the AD level.  On the other hand, athletic directors *love* the duplicated headcount because it works in their favor.  In fact, we usually complain about its over-use, such as at Quinnipiac, where certain female runners were triple-counted notwithstanding the apparent fact that winter and spring sports were really not functioning as separate sports but a glorified off-season for the cross-country team.  But it's possible that Waddell didn't get the memo.

2. Waddell knows that's acceptable to use duplicated head count, but has doubts about whether winter track is a genuine, meaningful athletic opportunity in its own right.  Maybe he is using the unduplicated count on principle because he feels that using the duplicated one would amount to taking advantage of a loophole.   This too is possible, though it is certainly at odds with the decision to create a winter track team.  If you object to the integrity of double-counting, why do you have those opportunities in the first place?

3. Waddell wants to cut men's soccer and baseball for reasons that have nothing to do with Title IX, but proffered the unduplicated headcount to provide a convenient excuse.  If this is correct, I think we will soon find out, based on what happens at Towson now that the duplicate calculation is in the spotlight.  If the athletic department goes ahead with the cuts anyway, we'll know they were not in fact motivated by Title IX compliance.  And we'll have one more reason to be skeptical of such a claim in future cases involving cuts to men's teams.