The University of Richmond is ending its men’s soccer team and the athletic director blames Title IX, the 1972 federal act that sparked a revolution in women’s sports by providing basic parity with men’s sports.
That hit home for two reasons: First, because Sean Baker, a Salisbury High School soccer star with whom my older son played, is now on the Richmond squad and will lose his team. Second, because I owe a lot to Title IX.
When my son found out Baker – an outstanding player and a terrific young man – would have to end his college soccer career or transfer, he was outraged. He said simply: “Sean Baker not playing soccer? That’s a crime.”
And it is. Anybody who plays with as much joy and drive and talent as Baker ought to have a suitable home for his passion.
Richmond is getting rid of men’s soccer and men’s track in order to add men’s lacrosse, which a university committee decided would be more attractive to students and advantageous for Division 1 play. The university’s athletic director is blaming Title IX because – he says – if they add men’s lacrosse without scrapping another men’s sport, they’d have to add a women’s sport. He says they can’t afford that and don’t want to reserve more spots for student-athletes.
The university president claims the decision to substitute lacrosse for men’s soccer and track wasn’t connected to the $3 million in donations pledged for an endowment for the new lacrosse team.
My high school’s yearbooks are a study in before-and-after Title IX. Looking through the yearbook from 1972, the year the law was enacted, the sports section is a sea of teenage boys.
That year, my school had boys varsity teams in football, baseball, basketball, golf, cross country, track and field, soccer, wrestling, tennis, bowling, swimming and a boys fitness squad. Several sports also fielded boys junior varsity and freshman teams.
And for girls? Girls at my high school in 1972 had swimming, cheerleading, majorettes and color guard.
Then Title IX worked its magic and by the time I graduated in 1977, girls had integrated the track and cross-country teams and had their own softball, basketball, volleyball, gymnastics, field hockey and tennis teams.
I played basketball, field hockey and softball and some of my fondest memories of high school come from those experiences. I still count hitting a line drive single as one of the great simple joys in life. (I rarely hit anything better than a single because – as my brother points out – glaciers move faster than I do.)
When you look at all the girls' and women’s teams now, it’s tempting to argue that Title IX is no longer necessary. But rollbacks in that progress seem much more likely in these tough economic times when high schools and colleges are looking to cut whatever they can.
Title IX is often blamed for the demise of some men’s sports but NCAA statistics show more men than ever are competing.
NCAA data show that the number of male college athletes grew in the past 10 years: a quarter of a million men now participate, up 38,000, according to ESPN magazine. As for women, 200,000 play NCAA sports, up 32,000 in the same period.
But what about the decrease in specific men’s sports, such as wrestling? A gap in enforcement of Title IX would suggest the law is being scapegoated.
In 1984, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Title IX didn’t apply to college sports because they almost never received federal funds.
Four years later, Congress passed legislation saying that it did apply.
According to ESPN magazine: “During that four-year span when Title IX was not in effect for athletic departments, NCAA schools still dropped 53 wrestling programs, an average of 13.2 a year. From 1988 to 2000, when the law again covered sports, wrestling cuts slowed dramatically, with 56 programs dropped during that 12-year period, an average of 4.7 a year.”
Still, I’m sympathetic to those frustrated with the apparent rigidity of interpretations of the law. Are there ways to interpret Title IX that still uphold the spirit of it, without blocking common sense solutions? I’m all ears.