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nine is the loneliest number
football, field hockey, and fair play
by michelle von euw

Blame the girls.

This refrain has echoed quietly under the ballfields and basketball courts of America for ages, a steady beating drum that occasionally swells from a whisper to a crescendo. Right now, with the Bush Administration promising to re-address one of the catalysts for the way women play sports, the sound has grown into a deep and booming yell accusing girls of, once again, ruining the hallowed ground where men have proudly stood for centuries.

It’s happened before. Female reporters in the locker rooms, sirens distracting ballplayers, shrews who force their husbands’ careers to end early, mothers who don’t push hard enough to get their sons onto the elite teams, it’s nothing new. Now female athletes are being blamed for destroying non-revenue generating sports like wrestling and men’s gymnastics on college campuses, because it’s a hell of a lot easier to blame the girls than take a closer look at the situation and realize it is much more complex than a couple of roman numerals.

Three decades ago, right around the time that Tatum O’Neal joined the Bad News Bears and Rebecca Lobo was the only girl in her basketball league, the country looked around and saw the youth of America as if through a kaleidoscope. Little league and local soccer leagues couldn’t discriminate against skin color, and everyone was better off because of it. President Nixon signed off on a law that would give girls from elementary school to college similar rights: Title IX simply stated that gender bias could not be used to keep students from after-school activities, from band to debate teams to hockey. The word “sports” or “athletics” was never used.

In the years since, Title IX has changed the world of sports drastically. In the early ‘70s, 15 percent of college athletes were female; that number today is closer to 41 percent nationally. Girls make up roughly half the grade school soccer rosters, and women have a Final Four. Soccer remains the world’s favorite sport, and United States fans rarely have been so excited as they were when the U.S. women captured the World Cup.

In the earliest interpretations of the law, elementary schools threw everyone together. In the ‘80s, baseball teams of eight, ten, and twelve year-olds were integrated (my team, for example, was comprised of 15 boys and 3 girls), as were soccer squads, hockey teams, basketball leagues and Pee Wee football. However, the last decade has brought about segregation: girls have their own leagues, separate from the boys. Little league now has a softball component, where girls play with and against other girls. There are girls’ hockey leagues and girls’ basketball organizations, where children are separated by gender from an early age.

Upon its launch, the WNBA tapped college superstar Rebecca Lobo to do one of their television spots. The UConn standout and Olympic gold medal winner told potential fans, “When I was a little girl, I dreamed of playing for the Boston Celtics.” She finished the spot by apologizing to legendary Celtics coach Red Auerbach, saying that she was busy with her WNBA team.

In an alternate reality, could Lobo have played in the NBA? Could Title IX have led to professional teams that look like the Bad News Bears? Size, strength, and physique are always a question, but Chamique Holdsclaw could possibly hold her own against Bobby Hurley or Tony Delk. You definitely can’t tell me that there aren’t women bigger and stronger than the Grammatica brothers who could kick a football just as well.

It’s hard to argue or even imagine another place where sports are truly segregated and equal, however, when the main piece of federal legislation that got us onto the court in the first place is under such great attack. Title IX is swathed in misconceptions, has been used as a scapegoat by college administrators who don’t want to make difficult decisions, and lumped together with femi-nazis, bra-burners, lesbians, and other distasteful mutations of the fairer sex, according to those leading the current refrain of “Blame the girls.”

While athletic participation among college men has actually risen two percent since Title IX, it hasn’t been in sports like wrestling. In the past three decades, athletes have become more specialized, and the multi-sport student doesn’t really exist anymore. Athletes are most likely to focus on one sport, like basketball or football or baseball, and are no longer on the swimming or wrestling teams as well. Lack of interest alone doesn’t account for the disproportionate number of wrestling squads cut from college programs, however. Which is where Title IX comes in.

When Title IX was implemented, it was so broad and simple that soon after, some guidelines had to be established to give athletic programs some suggestions. The simplest of the three prongs used to measure Title IX compliance is easy math: the number of girls playing sports must equal the number of boys. This is the one that athletic directors and college presidents most often throw out to blame the elimination of a small profile men’s sport, like swimming or gymnastics or wrestling.

That is, of course, the easy way out. There are other solutions, such as offering more women’s sports, encouraging higher levels of participation in current sports among female students, and trimming bloated rosters.

Title IX runs up against another barrier: money. Men’s college football and basketball, often referred to as the revenue-generating sports, are perceived as giant cash cows for universities and specifically athletic programs. Because college football is such a huge business, and television contracts and bowl winnings and licensing deals have generated millions of dollars for schools, there is a misconception that football pays for a school’s other sports, specifically, women’s sports.

I say “misperception,” because a third of the 117 Division IA football schools lose money every year. About a third break even, while approximately thirty schools – the Ohio States, Floridas, and Nebraskas – reap the financial benefits.

It costs a hell of a lot of money to field a football team. For one, all Division IA schools are allowed to carry 85 scholarship players on their roster. At a private school, tuition, room, and board alone can cost a school upwards of $2.5 million. And do you think Bobby Bowden isn’t stocking his team with 85 players?

There’s also equipment, an army of assistant coaches, uniforms, recruiting costs, and travel expenses. Tennessee paid $800,000 just getting to the Fiesta Bowl in 1998, and that figure doesn’t include hotels or meals.

There are new stadiums (Maryland shelled out $125 million to build a new basketball arena; Connecticut is adding a $90 million football stadium to facilitate their move to Division IA). There are coaches’ salaries (Guy Morriss signed a contract in December that will pay him $1 million a year – making him the fortieth college coach to make at least that much – to coach Baylor, which isn’t even a football school). And there are hundreds of other expenses that chip away at the game day receipts.

The story grows worse when looking at the 104 Division I AA programs, just a notch lower on the football echelon. Only two of those teams turn any profit, the rest lose hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars each year. Five years ago, Boston University ended ninety years of football by shutting down a program that cost $3 million a year to run, but only produced $90,000 in revenue.

The National Wrestling Coaches Association would be wise to turn away from their focus on Title IX, and instead ask athletic directors to reassess the direction of their resources. Would cutting the number of football scholarships to 75 or even 65 have an effect on any programs? Walk-ons could supplement the roster spaces, if needed, and the money saved would support not only women athletes, but wrestlers, too.

But they blame the girls. There are lots of cute analogies and stories about robbing Peter to pay Paula, of giving daughters advantages while holding back sons, of forcing girls onto crew teams when they really just want to get their beauty sleep. These stories hold little weight against the current backdrop of university athletics, where the male participants are still kings and women still struggle for respect, for credit, for playing time.

It’s easy to blame the girls. It’s much more difficult to just let the girls play.


Originally from Boston, Michelle is a writer, editor, instructor, obsessive sports fan, loud talker, quick laugher, new mom, and chances are, she watches more television than you do. Follow her on Twitter at michellevoneuw

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erik myers
2.7.03 @ 9:50a

People are getting bent out of shape about wrestling? What a joke!

I'd much rather watch any women's sport than men's wrestling.. and that's not the mysoginist comment it looks like.

I mean women play harder, they want it more. Sometimes I think men play because they feel like they're supposed to. Women? They play because they want to kick your ass.

Much more fun to watch.

trey askew
2.7.03 @ 9:59a

Michelle, definitely feeling you on your arguments for more women's sports. And I don't think many will argue that some male sports are completely diluted with schools trying to field teams that are not competitive and lose money. (Just everyone trying to reach that D1 level which sucks but that's a whole other topic.)

I do know though that a lot of the bigger programs are that way because of donors and not the school itself funding programs. Practically every big name school has buildings, fields and scholarships paid for through donations from alumni and/or private donors.

russ carr
2.7.03 @ 10:05a

Actually, Erik, a misogynist wouldn't be caught dead watching women's sports.

Michelle: exactly what is the current dilemma w/r/t Title IX? You twice mention wrestling (or the NWCA) in such a manner as to suggest that T9 is under assault by wrestling coaches. Is T9 up for review, or modification, or something?

michelle von euw
2.7.03 @ 10:44a

Sorry for the confusion, Russ. The NWCA sued the US Dept of Education a year ago regarding Title IX. As referred to in the opening paragraph, the Bush Adminstration promised to look at Title IX and possibly readdress it at the end of this month.

russ carr
2.7.03 @ 10:51a

Thanks, Michelle. I got the "what" but not the "why."

erik myers
2.7.03 @ 11:21a

Actually, Erik, a misogynist wouldn't be caught dead watching women's sports.

Ah.. with correct spelling, even. Sure they would. They would just be watching them for a completely different reason than I watch them.

russ carr
2.7.03 @ 11:32a

A misogynist is someone who hates women. Unless he was watching in the hope of seeing the soccer equivalent of a NASCAR pile-up, I can't understand the reasons.

I managed and/or kept stats for several of my high school's teams, both men's and women's. The women's teams always had a stronger drive, a more evident sense of teamwork, and frequently a better record.

On the collegiate level, I respected the female athletes I associated with much more than the males, because while they truly were dedicated to their sport, they hadn't lost sight of why they were at college, either. Except for one lab partner, the star center of the women's basketball team, who couldn't be bothered to assist with our pig's dissection. But she could've beat me up, and I respected that.

trey askew
2.7.03 @ 11:39a

That may be part of Michelle's point Russ. For the most part, women didn't or don't have any financial future in sports after college. I would think in the back of their mind is getting a good education for their future career while in the back of Joe second string football player's mind he thinks he is going to the NFL.

adam kraemer
2.7.03 @ 11:53a

I'm still not sure why Title IX is being reviewed. Are there too many women playing sports? Not enough sports open to them? Too many sports open to them? The wrong kinds? Are men's sports suffering as a result? I can't tell what the issue here is. I don't think anyone would argue that women shouldn't play sports. Not anyone here, at least.

jael mchenry
2.7.03 @ 12:01p

People claim men's sports are suffering as a result. I think Michelle's making the point that many men's sports (hockey) are suffering because of other men's sports (football.) Sounds dead-on to me.

matt morin
2.7.03 @ 12:42p

One problem with Title IX is that people assume that as many women as men want to play sports. So what's happening is, (completely simplistic example): a college has 1500 men playing sports and 1200 women playing sports. Because of Title IX, they just cut 300 of the men playing sports.

What's wrong with that is, there are many sports men play that don't have an equal women's sport. There are no/very few women wrestlers. So wrestling will always get cut to make things "equal."

heather millen
2.7.03 @ 12:49p

I see your point, Matt. But I think Michelle does a great job illustrating all of the factors that drive the demise of the smaller sports programs.

And listening to the media, you really would swear it was Title IX alone. Perhaps the law needs review, but definately not dissolution.

brian anderson
2.7.03 @ 1:00p

I could be wrong here (please let me know if I am), but doesn't Title IX only say that men and women have equal opportunities to participate in educational benefits? (Not just athletics, I might add.)

It doesn't specify the 1-to-1 quota (loaded term alert!) that Matt mentioned, but rather simply that every woman who wants to be in athletics (or shop class or college-track courses) can be, and any man who wants to be in, say, home-ec can be.

Pre-T9, a university could say "Sorry, we don't have the funds for women's athletics," but now they have to fund any women's athletic program that gets started under an "equal opportunity" idea (a women's team, normally, under the idea that the women can't play in the men's teams). The argument is then that women's lacrosse, for example, is taking away *funds* from the wrestling team. So if something gets cut, sure it's wrestling, but it's a cost savings, not a matter of "gotta have the same number in both places."


tracey kelley
2.7.03 @ 1:13p

The primary problem is that few colleges and universities want to dedicate attention beyond the cash cows of football and basketball. At ISU, they cut the men's baseball team - not because a female softball team was demanding more funds, but because the baseball team didn't generate enough income for the athletic department to pay the basketball coach's salary.

That's exactly what the NWCA is afraid of: if they can't draw the crowds that support ticket sales and concessions, then they won't get to play. They know they can't, so the blame is outrageous.

As long as colleges look at athletics strictly as cash crops, the cuts will continue to be deep and the opportunities few.

boston malloy
2.7.03 @ 1:49p

I was a junior when my alma mater (BU) decided to shut down our football program. While it was never cited as the official reason, all the players I spoke to blamed Title IX for the loss of the program. Apparently it had nothing to do with the fact that we had trouble recruiting good players to such a low-tiered school. I would be very interested to see how much we spent on that program versus the money we put towards the women's basketball team which was very competitive within their division.

matt morin
2.7.03 @ 2:06p

I'm going to go back to my original post. Basketball teams have 12 players and little equipment. Football - for which there is no women's equivalent, has more players (24 minimun), more injuries to worry about (hence the larger rosters) and more equipment. That's just the nature of football.

adam kraemer
2.7.03 @ 2:11p

I was just gonna say that. Are there any women's sports that have over 50 players on the bench?

heather millen
2.7.03 @ 2:17p

So if Title IX is too constricting, what are everyone's suggestions to still make it fair?

matt morin
2.7.03 @ 2:22p

No one's writing a law that says there have to be "Men's Studies" majors at all the schools that have "Women's Studies" majors.

Schools choose which classes they want to offer, they should also be free to choose which sports they want to offer. And if there isn't as much demand for women's sports at a particular college, then they shouldn't be forced to make it that way.

heather millen
2.7.03 @ 2:31p

Okay. I said "fair." If that were the case, then many women's sports would get overlooked.

I mean, it's obvious that colleges would then focus the bulk of their funding on the moneymaker sports like football and baseketball. As if they don't do that enough already.

matt morin
2.7.03 @ 2:38p

But why is that wrong?

heather millen
2.7.03 @ 2:43p

What's wrong with women's sports becoming obselete?

It's the same thing as taking away music and art classes at the elementary school level because of lack of funding. It's not that students wouldn't want the activities, it's that something's gotta get shoved to the back burner.

And with the lift of Title IX, it's obvious what that would be.

brian anderson
2.7.03 @ 3:02p

Matt, Title IX doesn't put requirements on what you do offer, but who you let into that program. Universities will add Men's Studies programs when they have demand, but Title IX says that you (a man) can be a Women's Studies major if you want (without it, nothing is stopping a university from prohibiting men from the Women's Studies program).

If our society accepted women in American football, and enough women evinced interest in it, Title IX says that the college has to let them on the team...or at least give them their own team.

And how do you draw the line at "much demand"? Let's say twenty women want to start a rugby team at Wossamatta U. The thousands of alumni want to see more men's football. Title IX says that if the women want athletics, the U can't say "Sorry, not enough women play sports" and throw all the money to the football team.

Your university can have all men's sports under T9, but you better be able to prove that none of the women wanted any sports and that you would support them if you did.


erik myers
2.7.03 @ 3:06p

Wossamatta U!

[slaps knee]

That's great.

russ carr
2.7.03 @ 3:11p

Perhaps college wrestling teams should adopt colorful uniforms and clever stage names for its athletes. Do away with this grappling stuff and circular rings. Less head gear, more cage matches. Then, like their "professional" counterparts, they could grab some of the lucrative face-time enjoyed by college hoops and football.

I would imagine a large percentage of the schools whining about this are D2 programs who are on-the-cusp competitive in football or basketball, but lackluster in all other sports, men's or women's. Most schools which have a team (either sex) which is successful in any sport throw their support behind that team: eg, UConn's women's hoops. The frustration with T9 comes from the belief that with just a little more money, good ol' F.U. could join the ranks of the illustrious...so let's steal it from the budgets of the non-televised sports, and use T9 as a scapegoat for cuts.

erik myers
2.7.03 @ 3:18p

Then, like their "professional" counterparts, they could grab some of the lucrative face-time enjoyed by college hoops and football.

Which is a wonderful segue for my upcoming column. Everybody keep your eye out for it on the 17th!

I'm going to take my usual stance and agree completely. But -- what's the alternative scapegoat? Not the alternative action, mind you. People are looking for an easy target. While Title IX is a crappy one, it's an easy one -- what do you think is a better easy target?

brian anderson
2.7.03 @ 3:22p

Well, the French are popular as scapegoats.

And the English: they invented Association football, which in the US counts as one of those "non-televised sports."

But me, I like to follow the people of ancient Athens, and demonize Socrates.

Blame it on the Platonists.

erik myers
2.7.03 @ 3:36p

Okay.. but I'm asking:

Rather than use T9 for an easy target, what should people use instead?

russ carr
2.7.03 @ 3:40p

Greedy collegiate administrators and ADs. As well as alumni associations and booster clubs. The same people who now are starting even earlier, poisoning Le Bron James' idea of how the world works. It's not about winning or losing, it's about profit and loss.


heather millen
2.7.03 @ 5:15p

They shouldn't use anyone as a target, they should address all the details (as Michelle touches on here) rather than seeking out a scapegoat.

There are a lot of factors, not just women in sports, not just pumped up football programs, not just televised sports vs. untelevised sports at the collegiate level.

robert melos
2.7.03 @ 10:43p

I'll address the column.

As a person with only a passing interest in sports, meaning tennis, basketball, hockey, downhill skiing, and most swim related sports, who has managed to remain pretty oblivious to world and all it's charms, who knew nothing of T9, or its existence, Michelle did a wonderful job of explaining it and stating her position.

sarah ficke
2.11.03 @ 10:13a

Michelle, I just went home for the weekend and, lo and behold, on the front sports page of the Delaware News Journal was an article about Title IX. Way to be ahead of the pack.

michelle von euw
2.11.03 @ 2:55p

Obviously, we're on the cutting edge here at Intrepid Media.

sarah ficke
5.22.03 @ 10:41a

Michelle, a Title IX article is in the current edition of the Harvard Gazette, in case you're interested.

jeffrey walker
5.22.03 @ 11:43a

One note:

I met David Stern, counselor for the NBA this week. Interesting note about the WNBA: while the NBA has Kobe and other stars coming straight from High School (must have a HS diploma to play in the NBA), the WNBA has a policy that women must have a college degree to play there. It may be the one most obvious example of women being more educated, yet still getting less pay then their male counterparts.


michelle von euw
5.22.03 @ 1:10p

Jeff, that's surprising. My memory on this is shady, but I think when the ABA started, they tried to institute a similiar clause, but it was challenged, then thrown out because it could be considered workplace discrimiation or something. I think the NBA had a similiar rule -- Wilt Chamberlin left Kansas early, but couldn't go to the NBA until his class graduated a year later.

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